While there is much concern from the outside about the
health of Jake Virtanen’s shoulder these days, the bigger issue seems like a crisis
of confidence for the second year Vancouver Canuck power forward. Virtanen has
yet to leave a mark on any of the five games he’s played this season and
following an optional practice the morning after a 3-0 loss to the Ottawa
Senators, Virtanen admitted he’s struggling to find the form that made him
effective in the second half of his rookie season.
his head more than his shoulder his holding him back right now.
“Thinking back on it, last year a
couple of my goals I had speed coming through the neutral zone,” Virtanen says.
“Right now, it’s ‘should I go or should I not go?’ The NHL is a really structured
game so you don’t want to be caught in the wrong spot. You’re always concerned
because the margin for error is so small if you make a mistake it can be in the
back of your net really quick. I want to have the confidence to go and play and
do what I used to do.”
The Canucks would certainly
welcome that because so far Virtanen has had trouble finding either his
offensive stride or the ability to be a physical force. On Tuesday, the
20-year-old Abbotsford native saw the ice for just 8:26 including three shifts
over the final 10 minutes of the game – and one of those came after the Sens
sealed the victory into an empty net.
On the season, Virtanen has yet
to register a point and has an even-strength Corsi For of 46.9% despite a
deployment that has seen him on the ice for 56.9% of face-offs in the offensive
zone. Virtanen admits that his limited role in the early going and a constant
shuffle of linemates hasn’t allowed him to contribute the way he’d like or knows
he’s capable of.
“I think the last couple of games
have been okay, but I haven’t really been there,” he says.” The lines have been
changed pretty much every day so you’re not sure who you’re playing with. If
you’re in the line-up, you like being able to get chemistry with your teammates
and your linemates especially. And with Bo and Baertsch, we do have chemistry
but when we’re switched around a lot it’s kind of hard to get that line going
all the time. I have to play my game each and every night, but it’s hard to
keep it going.”
The Canucks need the sixth
overall pick in the 2014 draft to develop into a player they can rely on. Right
now, though, that’s clearly not where Virtanen finds himself.
“I have to earn that, but I want
to go out there in the games and be an every shift kind of guy,” he says. “Last
night, I was only out there for about seven minutes. I wanted to make the most
of it. But with five to seven minutes of ice, it’s pretty hard to get stuff
going when you’re sitting for so long and you’re sitting on the bench and after
10 or 11 minutes you get back out there. That’s just part of the game. Willie
wanted to win last night and he was playing the guys who he thought could win
Canucks head coach Willie
Desjardins insists he hasn’t in any way soured on Virtanen. He points to the
player who channelled his frustration over being singled out as one of the
reasons Canada failed to reach the podium at the World Junior championship a
year ago and returned to the NHL hungry and motivated. Desjardins remembers well
how Virtanen used his size and speed effectively and didn’t seem overwhelmed or
adversely affected by NHL matchups.
Desjardins is well aware what
Virtanen means to the future of the franchise, but as a coach he needs the
player to earn his opportunities. And so far this season, Virtanen hasn’t done
“Jake is a player, with his
talent and ability, he needs to be a top nine forward for sure and probably a
top six,” Desjardins says. “He has the ability to do that. We have to get him
to that spot where he can do it. We have to get him back to that point again where
he’s hungry and motivated. I thought the first game against Calgary he had a
couple of pretty good chances and since then it hasn’t been quite as good. When he gets himself to the point in his game
where he’s structurally sound, he can be that player. He’s good enough to do
that. But right now he’s not at that point. He’s working to get there though.
It not like he’s not trying to work and get through it.”
injuries to Alex Burrows and Derek Dorsett and word now that Anton Rodin is on
a 4-6 week recovery program, Virtanen shouldn’t have to worry about constant
rumblings about his need to spend time in the American Hockey League. For the foreseeable
future, it appears Virtanen will be a part of the Canucks forward group and it’s
up to him to find a way to contribute and earn more ice time.
knows he has more to give and both he and the Canucks hope to see it soon.
“I still feel like if I’m getting
out there and playing a regular shift, I’ll be able to do that,” Virtanen says.
“That’s my game. In junior, I was relied on to score and coming here was obviously
a little bit of a change because I’m not that guy right now. I want to be able
to go out there and help produce and be productive when I get the opportunity.”
While there may still be some
tenderness in the shoulder Virtanen injured on opening night in the preseason,
his biggest injury issue right now is a headache. That comes with the territory
when you’re a young player overthinking and over processing the situation
rather than simply getting out on the ice and playing on instinct.