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[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ake Virtanen was born in New Westminister, moved to Langley briefly and then to Abbotsford where he starred on local rep hockey teams. At the age of 15, he was selected first overall by the Calgary Hitmen in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft. Virtanen’s skill and physical play saw him repeatedly selected for international play as part of Team Canada. He also demonstrated the attributes prized at the professional level and shot up the NHL draft rankings.
“What could have unfolded as a dream come true narrative of a native son returning to his ancestral homeland instead was nothing more than a failed opportunity.”
In 2014, the Canucks selected Jake Virtanen sixth overall in the NHL Draft. It is rare that a team spends such a high draft pick on a local product. That year, he continued to play for the Calgary Hitmen and was a productive player on last year’s Gold Medal winning Canadian squad at the World Junior Championships. This year, Virtanen cracked the Canucks lineup, at the tender age of 19.
To boost his confidence and give him some more big game experience, the Canucks elected to release him for competition in this year’s World Junior Tournament. Unfortunately, Virtanen struggled posting just one point in four games and taking two penalties which led to the game winning goal in Canada’s 6–5 defeat in the quarterfinals against Finland. Virtanen’s father was born in Finland and the tournament took place in Helsinki. As such, what could have unfolded as a dream-come-true narrative of a native son returning to his ancestral homeland instead was nothing more than a failed opportunity by a young player struggling to develop.
The Canucks are now at a quandary concerning Virtanen’s immediate future with the franchise. He has struggled in the NHL posting just one goal and three assists in 19 games while averaging 9:49 of ice time. The team can elect to send him back to Calgary where he would get more ice time and play a more prominent role.
However, if he were to remain with the team he would continue to gain valuable tutelage from veteran players such as the Sedin twins. There is also an economic factor to Virtanen’s status with the team. If he should play in 40 or more games, he will enter free agency one year early. For now, the Canucks have elected to keep him with the team. The team will need to tread carefully, though, to ensure the local product blossoms into the front line force he is projected to be.