The Kids Aren’t Alright

Something has been bothering me ever since the Canucks made the decision not to send McCann and Virtanen back to Junior for another year.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but then it finally hit me like a crushing, open-ice hit murder by Virtanen.

It’s not this year that’s the problem. It’s the next two.

Other than elite talents like McDavid or Eichel, or perhaps draft picks with elite teams, who have enough talent in the line-up to shelter their prospects and ease them into the lineup, the best place to develop players is in the AHL. And by putting both of these kids on the NHL roster, the Canucks have made it that much harder to send them down to Utica next year or the year after.

So the problem isn’t how they develop this year. It’s how they develop over the next three years.

It’s true. They probably wouldn’t have learned much back in Junior this year. But at worst it would slow or moderate their development, and certainly wouldn’t set it back. Playing with the pros helps them get accustomed to life in the NHL and what it takes to compete. But there’s also the very real risk of hurting their development by having them out there getting buried by the opposition every night.

And by the way, despite the great start to the season, that’s exactly what’s happening to them right now. Here’s McCann trying to keep his head above water over the last two weeks while getting crushed every night:


And before he got hurt, Virtanen wasn’t much better, other than a nice stretch against teams that aren’t very deep and thus he could see some easier competition:


If one of the reasons that Benning and Desjardins wanted them in the NHL was to give them a chance to learn how to be winners, they are failing miserably at providing them with the right learning environment.

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Perhaps they were influenced by the surprising season that Bo Horvat put in last year, but even he could probably have used a season or two in the AHL. Instead, he’s now out there carrying a huge load on his shoulders every night, and struggling in an environment that doesn’t provide much of an opportunity to actually succeed.

It’s ok to challenge kids and ask them to stretch and grow in their skills. That’s how they are going to improve. But it has to be done in an environment where they have at least some chance to succeed. This team, at this point in time, is not it.

And the problem with having both McCann and Virtanen on the NHL roster this year, is that now they are basically locked into keeping them on the roster next season as well. Look around the league and you’ll see that the kids that the high draft picks that skip that year in the AHL are rarely sent down there the following year. Because once you’ve told them they are NHL regulars, you don’t want to shake their confidence by demoting them.

As a result, what they’re missing out on is a chance to gel in a less pressure-packed environment, much the same way the previous core came together with the Manitoba Moose a few years before starting to have an impact at the NHL level. I am fairly certain that McCann and Virtanen would learn much more going through a season and playoffs like last year’s Utica Comets than they will struggling through the grind of a pointless season in the NHL. Figuratively, if not literally at times:


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So even setting aside the contract issues with burning a year on their ELC or even starting the clock on unrestricted free agency, there are long term implications to this decision that go well beyond whether they were better served by being in the NHL this year. What the Canucks have done is trade a year of risky development for two to three years of seasoning.

And when it comes to successful recipes, a little seasoning goes a long way.




You can also check out the monthly collections of Graphic Comments over at The Sporting News.

  • Mantastic

    If the Canucks were a fringe team before adding McCann and Virtanen, and they were chipping in and making them a playoff team, it would be understandable that they stayed with the club. The fact that the team needs McCann because they dont’ have enough depth in Utica to call up, should not be the reason he stays in the NHL. He should be here because he is ready, contributing and has a hand in the success of the Canucks.

    If McCann was producing more, setting the NHL on fire, it would be a no brainer. If we have to question if he really should be here, he likely shouldn’t be here. Both kids should be going to the wjc and back to jr, and then after their season is over, go to Utica if the Comets are in the post season.

    JB is dropping the ball here, similar to what happened in Edmonton last season with Draisitl.

  • andyg

    Both kids started the year well. McCann was leading the team in goals at one point. There is nothing stopping the team from sending them down. Vey can be called back up to replace McCann.

    How ever,just because a player performs well in the AHL is no guaranty that they will be NHL players. Vey is a prime example. I personally think that McCann will not be hurt if they keep him up. All young players go through ups are downs.

  • andyg

    Inconsistent,aging and ailing veterans have unduly exposed the younger players.

    Virtanen was a gamble but every veteran on lines 2-4 are having a rough year.

    Hamhuis,Bart and Weber seem as inadequate as the AHL supporting cast.

  • andyg

    Yeah and look how badly Draisitl turned out this year, it really messed up his.. dev.. de.. oh.

    I don’t think there is a linear relationship between winning and development like people think. The Nhl and Junior are apples and oranges when it comes to learning experiences for these young kids, but I do think that the AHL gives a similar ‘mans league’ intensity with better opportunity for the young guns

    • andyg

      Can’t remember who said it, but a young player has never been harmed by being sent back to junior. Putting too much pressure on a kid when they aren’t ready at the NHL level on the other hand, can hurt a players development … see Brule.

    • Mantastic

      Draisaitl was drafted 3rd overall, McCann was draft 22nd and Virtanen 6th. neither have the pedigree Drai has, and even still, Edmonton should not have kept up Draisaitl past 9 games burning 1 year off his elc is brutal looking at it now.

      • Magimaso

        But this assumes that Draisaitl didn’t gain anything by spending half a season in the NHL, understanding what he needed to do to have success in the big leagues and then going back down to junior to dominate.

        In any case, all of this “development” stuff is just a guess.

        If there was a clear cut approach, the author would have been able to quantify it.

        Was Ryan O’Reilly “rushed”?

        He was a 2nd round pick that made the NHL as an 18 year old but didn’t breakout until his 3rd season.

        It seems that coaches are comfortable with guys like O’Reilly & Couturier as teenagers because they can handle the physicality and defensive aspects of the NHL game even if the scoring hasn’t come around yet.

        Horvat & Virtanen certainly fit this mold. McCann may not from a physical standpoint but he has a good two way reputation.

        I’d suggest the bigger issue is that the Sutter injury has forced Horvat & McCann into bigger roles and Virtanen and Baertschi were essentially in a platoon which helped neither player.

        • Mantastic

          Virtanen is good defensively?! he was never known to be a defensive ace in junior or ever

          Did you even read the article? McCann and Virtanen are currently getting crushed defensively.

          Couturier and O’Reilly had very good vets to cushion their NHL landing, as the author of the article already mentioned, that being a key factor in having teenagers in the NHL.

          • Mantastic

            Virtanen has an NHL ready body where – so the theory goes – his development shouldn’t be hindered by playing in a man’s league.

            He has played all of 19 games and had a stretch where he was playing well.

            I’m not really in favor of keeping him but the author isn’t providing any evidence that this would be detrimental to his long term development.

            McCann was playing fine in a limited 4th line role prior to Sutter’s injury.

          • Mantastic

            just because someone is big enough to play in the NHL doesn’t mean they should… that’s an awful argument.

            a stretch within a 19 game sample size, is so incredibly tiny, and useless to determine one’s ability to play in the hardest league in the world.

          • Mantastic

            That is your argument and hang up, not mine.

            I am not in favor of keeping up Virtanen anyway.

            Though I wouldn’t be opposed to a few games after the WJC to see where his game is at before making the final call.

            A 19 game sample size in itself is tiny and useless to determine one’s ability to play in the hardest league in the world.

  • andyg

    I agree with most of the posters. The two youngsters did well at the beginning and deserved to stay but at this point they are better off going to the World Jrs and then back to the WHL/CHL.

    They got a taste and will be that much hungrier next year. Honestly, I would love to see Horvat go down and dominate in the AHL, with all three potentially playing their next year (not because they can’t play in the NHL but because they need the playing time and space to develop properly). Vey, Kenins, etc can fill in this year.f

  • andyg

    Let’s be honest at this point; the Sedins (and maaaaybe Hansen and Tanev) are the only untouchables on this roster right now.

    The Sedins look like legitimate money in the bank right now too, which is why it’s so frustrating to see such an inept group behind them for “support”.

    McCann can probably push through the rigors more than Virtanen right now, but I’d be fine if he were sent back. Just call up from Utica to replace what they bring and sell off some assets. This team needs a major overhaul, which is ironic considering they just went through one under the new-ish GM.

    Also, AV: come back to us. We need you.

  • andyg

    why does everyone think the sedins are so good. ever think that its because the rest of the team is so bad they look good …as captain and alternate they are suppost to be helping the new guys instead of just trying to run up their stats..their part of the major losing streak the team is in..and two goals in four games doesn’t cut it

    • Mac_robson

      Most people who think the Sedins are so good are right. Besides showing the desire to play and show up every night, be in the best shape possible, continue to score at a top ten pace for about 8 years, how exactly do you propose the Sedins help the kids.

      The fact that they are both 35,and there is almost no properly drafted and developed players on the roster, speaks to front office mismanagement and greedy ownership.

      You really have to be delusional to blame this on the Sedans, we should feel lucky they haven’t demanded a trade. I for one would love to see them call out management, but its not in their make-up.

      • Mantastic

        last I heard team started with a T not an S and seeing how their cap and alt that means their on ice planning isn’t going very well…and so what if they have racked up a long term score so have a lot of other players in their time in nhl ..but on the bright side in the off season they can get jobs modeling for lightbulbs or bobbleheads or flip burgers but you would never get yours it would be hendrik to Daniel Daniel to hendrik o they lost it its in the trash

    • Mac_robson

      Wow… I think you are kind of out of sync with the rest of the hockey world. They are currently sitting 6th and 9th in league scoring. I’m betting that’s why everyone seems to think they’re so good

  • Mantastic

    I agree that these guys aren’t 100% ready for prime time. After training camp, I think the team saw them as useful supporting pieces around a half-decent veteran lineup and thought it would be nice to keep them for their skillset and energy.

    Fast forward a few weeks and the team has been decimated by injuries, forcing them into bigger roles than they can currently handle, in an effort to keep the team above water.

    It’s no surprise that they were kept around a bit longer as management tried to figure out if they could help float the team for a few weeks while the injuries cleared up, but now that it’s apparent that the team has no foundation and no chance of success this year, they seem to be doing the right thing and sending them back.

    I have zero issue with how this has been handled, I think everyone has made the reasonable decision given the situation at hand in each week since the preseason started. If they both go to the World Junior tournament and get returned to the CHL, they’ll get a lot of leadership experience to go along with the first-hand knowledge they’ve gained for what it takes to excel in the NHL.

    As a few people have put it, this is what worked for Draisaitl, and I think it could work for these two. They’re definitely both not afraid of putting in hard work and staying dedicated, so I think they’ll be just fine.

  • Magimaso

    can you guys do a ha ha i told you so piece? think CA got a lot of flack for saying this team is going to suck this year by just analyzing data and seeing how JB was leaking value left and right. this team needs a new direction and the current regime clearly doesn’t have a plan.

  • JMoney

    I don’t know that I buy the assertion that we can’t send them to Utica next season. Neither one was eligible for the Comets this year, so they would have gone back to juniors which they’re frankly too good for.

    I think next year you could just tell them: Hey you’re still young. You weren’t eligible for the AHL last season so we gave you a taste but now you are. We’re excited about your potential and we’re happy to have you but we think this is best for your development.

    Also you’ve got guys like Shinkaruk and Gaunce that have put in their time in the AHL. It’s their turn now.

    Then they’re shielded from the full on tank and awaiting the likes of Demko and Boesser.

    • Mantastic

      how is McCann or Virtanen too good for juniors? Virtanen was 76th in scoring in the WHL last season…

      Strome scored 129 pts last season in the OHL, and he’s still in the OHL this season.

      McCann score 81 points last season in the OHL, I wouldn’t consider that too good.

      • Mantastic

        Agree that neither of these is too good for juniors,but are you evaluating players by point production only ? These players (IMO) do need to be playing against tougher competition, but can’t be sent to AHL, for development purposes.

  • Mantastic

    I wish I knew what the heck was wrong with Baertschi and Vey. They should have been cost-effective third liners that could add some secondary scoring but instead they’re non-existent. I highly doubt it’s for a lack of trying on Vey’s part, it seems like he doesn’t know how to fit in the NHL. Baertschi, is he lazy or is his style of play really just junior material? If those two actually delivered, that would have taken a lot of attention and pressure away from Virtanen, McCann and Hutton but Vey’s in the NHL and Baertschi’s in the pressbox.

    • Mantastic

      what is wrong with Baertschi and Vey? they just aren’t very good. there is a very good reason why their former teams have given up on them, similar to Clendenning but Benning thinks he knows better.

      • Mantastic

        But when you look around the league and see goons, possession anchors, and other players who really shouldn’t be in the NHL, you gotta wonder why these two guys can’t even break in as solid fourth liners.

          • Mantastic

            Size is not necessarily the problem with Vey. He recognized he was getting out-muscled on the boards and down low so he worked with Canucks trainers to add 12 lbs of muscle over the summer, so he should be 6’0″ and 200lbs. You can’t say that’s small for the NHL. Yet he isn’t having the same success as he did in the WHL and AHL.

            As for Baertschi, he’s definitely a perimeter player but in his interviews, he seems to understand that he needs to adapt his game to drive for the net. Too much it’s not showing in terms of his one-ice visuals and scoring stats.

    • Mantastic

      Last I looked Vey was centering 2nd line in Utica where he has been all season. Did not watch game tonight but Sven has played a few games in a row accomplishing very little. This guy reminds me of Mason Raymond, mostly skating like the wind and being a complete non-factor.