With Brandon Prust out with an apparent ankle injury, the Canucks decided to add another forward on Wednesday, calling up winger Brendan Gaunce from the Utica Comets, as well as Alex Biega to replace the injured Dan Hamhuis.
With Gaunce in the lineup, Willie Desjardins could have the option of making a bona fide all-rookie line (which, one imagines, he would instantly distrust and staple to the bench). But with Adam Cracknell also available, it remains to be seen whether Gaunce is here to play or to watch.
Gaunce is in tonight— Jason Botchford (@botchford) October 29, 2015
Oh. It appears I'm a little behind. But cut me some slack -- it's hard to keep up. The Canucks keep adding so many new characters this season. If they were a TV show, we'd be saying they jumped the shark, what with all these fresh-faced cast members. It's like the Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie show, except there's, like, seven Poochies.
Gaunce has instantly leapfrogged Cracknell and landed in the lineup. Interesting. And, if I'm Jake Virtanen, alarming. Brandon Prust's injury may wind up hurting him too.
Virtanen has three games remaining in his nine-game tryout, that probation period teenagers get before the NHL decides to acknowledge their existence contractually. The Canucks need to make a decision on him, as well as Jared McCann, who's played seven games, very soon.
McCann has to feel pretty good about his chances to stay. He's leading the team in goals. Sending him back to junior at this point would just seem like jealousy.
Virtanen, though, has yet to score. He's leading the team in hits, which should help his case. The Canucks have to like the physical element he brings. And there's no question he's got NHL speed. But there have been times he's looked a little slow in processing the game. And if we can see with our relatively untrained eyes that Virtanen's head can't always keep up with his feet, it's a safe bet the coaching staff has noticed too.
Now they're trying out another rookie winger. That's a bad sign.
Admittedly, I could be overthinking this. Gaunce may simply be here to replace Prust, not Virtanen. But even then, with three games to go before the Virtanen decision has to be made, all of which could now also include Gaunce, you'd have to think the play of Virtanen's potential replacement could help the Canucks make the call.
Virtanen still has time to make his own case, of course. This management group and coaching staff can change their mind on a player pretty quickly -- just ask Nick Bonino, or Yannick Weber -- so even if they're leaning one way or the other, they can be swayed. A strong showing on this road trip from Big Country (as the team is grossly calling him) could be enough to earn a permanent spot and keep Gaunce at bay.
But the heat is really on. There's competition all of a sudden. If Virtanen struggles on the road trip, and Gaunce happens to hit the ground running (or, uh, ice skating, as it were), the Canucks could very well give the new new kid the old new kid's seat on the flight home.