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Jake Virtanen is probably playing against the Kings

The Canucks are 2-0-1 to start the season, so naturally, Canucks fans are pretty happy so far. Still, we could be happier. If there's been any complaint about the first trio of games, it's that 19-year-old Jake Virtanen hasn't been in any of them.
Jake Virtanen
Jake Virtanen

The Canucks are 2-0-1 to start the season, so naturally, Canucks fans are pretty happy so far. Still, we could be happier. If there's been any complaint about the first trio of games, it's that 19-year-old Jake Virtanen hasn't been in any of them.

But I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that Virtanen will be playing the Kings on Tuesday. I have a source. 


That's Stefan Virtanen, Jake's older brother, carrying on the grand tradition of family members breaking hockey news on Twitter. Heck, at this point, siblings of hockey players are probably the fourth-most reliable NHL news source, after Bob McKenzie, Renaud Lavoie, and, of course, @NHLSourcesSay. (How can you not trust a Twitter account whose bio includes the hashtag #freeageny? 20,000 people agree.)

Granted, it's possible Stefan Virtanen knows nothing. Speaking from experience, a lot of older brothers are total idiots. There's a degree of certainty in his tweet, though. Admittedly, total idiots tend to project that same certainty, but I'd say it's a safe bet that Virtanen plays.

But if Virtanen is in, who comes out? 

I think it should be Brandon Prust, whose speed on the forecheck is, how you say, nonexistent. Like the monster from It Follows, he's an intimidating presence out there, but really only if you let him catch you. 

Unless someone caught Alex Edler's flu, however, Jared McCann seems most likely, since Willie Desjardins appears to have a "no teenagers" rule when it comes to his lineup. (Again, that's "no teenagers" like "no Homers". You're allowed to have one, and for the first three games, it would appear that McCann has been the Homer Glumplich to Virtanen's Homer Simpson.) 

As a fan, I hate Desjardins' wariness when it comes to the kids. I want to see all teenagers, all the time. (Turn the Canucks into an episode of Saved By the Bell -- maybe the one where they kill Slater's lizard.) But it's easy to see the concern. Youth is great, but it's also a pretty easy thing to exploit. McCann has looked decent the first three games, but there have been times he's also looked a little nonplussed at his first taste of hockey on expert mode. That's to be expected. And when you have two of those guys, not to mention other inexperienced players like Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, and Ben Hutton, you have to be mindful of how many newbs are in the lineup, and on the ice at one time. If supernewb McCann comes out for Virtanen, however, that keeps the mix precisely the same.

I'm also a big proponent of bringing the kids along slowly, and giving them opportunities incrementally. Just because they've made the Canucks doesn't mean you need to throw them to the wolves all the time every day, especially when managing their confidence is such a big part of the development process.

Here's an example of how Desjardins does that: the coach was sparing with McCann's faceoffs versus Anaheim, sending his line over the boards mostly on the fly. But then, late in the third, with the score tied, he sent McCann out for a defensive zone draw against Ryan Getzlaf. McCann won it. 

It's worth noting Desjardins did the exact same thing with Horvat last December. Same opponent, too. Horvat lost the draw. The Ducks immediately scored the game-tying goal and went on to win in overtime. From the Province:

His coach had the confidence to put rookie Bo Horvat out for a defensive-zone draw against Ryan Getzlaf in the third period. The Ducks captain muscled his way to winning the face-off and got it back to Francois Beauchemin for the tying goal. Not a great night for Horvat, who took a 55.7 winning percentage into Sunday’s game but won just three of 10 draws.

“That’s a lot to ask,” admitted Desjardins of the Horvat-Getzlaf matchup. “I played him against (Martin) Hanzal last game and he did a good job. Getzlaf is an elite guy and we lost a lot of other draws (winning just 43 per cent) and they just didn’t end up in our net. It’s tough for Bo because he’s played real well for us but he’s doing the best he can.”

There's little doubt that McCann knew how important that faceoff was, and what it meant that his coach was trusting him with it. That had to be great for his confidence, and once someone tells him Horvat blew the same test last year, he's likely to feel even better. 

But it doesn't mean he has to play every night just yet, or that he can't continue to develop in the press box. People roll their eyes at the idea of players watching and learning from up there, but I assure you, it's a thing. When you're new to a game, and the NHL is a new game for these kids, it helps to watch others play it a bit first.

Virtanen's been through it before.

“Actually, in Calgary, they did the same with me when I was 16,” Virtanen told the Calgary Sun. “So I'm kind of used to that already. I've been through it. (Former Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson) wanted me to watch the game and watch the older guys and see what they did and just try to get some experience. So I've been scratched when I was younger, and it's just part of the process."

The next part of the process, though, is playing hockey. Virtanen gets to do that tonight.