Jake Virtanen (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
The Vancouver Canucks have loaned rookie Jake Virtanen to Team Canada for the World Junior Championship. The 19-year-old has played 19 games for the Canucks this season, but was a healthy scratch eight times. He was playing in the AHL on a conditioning stint before being loaned to Team Canada.
Vancouver Canucks rookie winger Jake Virtanen has been in and out of the lineup all campaign and, most recently, was sent to the AHL for a conditioning stint following an upper-body injury. But Virtanen is going to get big minutes soon and he’ll be doing it on the world stage, as the Canucks announced Sunday they’ve loaned Virtanen to Team Canada for the World Junior Championship.
Virtanen, 19, cracked the Canucks roster this season in just his second try. Drafted sixth overall by Vancouver at the 2014 draft, Virtanen found a spot for himself on the roster as a checking-line winger, but the B.C. native has had a tough time moving up the lineup. Virtanen was a standout with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen and he made the jump to professional hockey during the 2014-15 post-season when he skated in 10 games with the Utica Comets en route to an AHL Western Conference championship.
Though Virtanen impressed enough to make his way onto the Canucks to start the season, he has averaged less than 10 minutes of ice time per game for Vancouver. On three occasions, Virtanen has played less than eight minutes in a game. With Team Canada, though, Virtanen will be a top-line winger and be relied upon to be an impact player.
Virtanen’s situation is similar to Curtis Lazar’s in 2014-15. Lazar, then 19, was loaned to Team Canada by the Ottawa Senators in December 2014 after struggling to find a steady role in the Senators’ lineup. Lazar went on to captain Team Canada and chipped in fives goals and nine points in seven games.
Joining the Canadian roster could offer Virtanen a big confidence boost and he’s one of four players who will be returning to the roster after helping Canada to a gold medal at the 2015 World Junior Championship in Toronto. Virtanen will be joined by returnees Lawson Crouse, Joe Hicketts and Brayden Point.
“Adding Jake to our roster brings another layer of leadership and experience that will benefit the team and our younger players who are going to look to Jake, Lawson, Joe and Brayden as we move along through the championship,” said Scott Salmond, vice-president of hockey operations and national teams for Hockey Canada, in a release. “We want to thank the Vancouver Canucks’ organization for working with us through this process.”
The Canucks were also considering releasing center Jared McCann to Team Canada, but an injury to Brandon Sutter meant McCann was needed to fill out Vancouver’s roster.
Virtanen joined the Canadian squad Sunday and will be making the trip with the team to Helsinki where the coaching staff will finalize the roster following the second pre-tournament game on Dec. 20. Canada opens the competition Dec. 26 against Team USA. Team Canada has already trimmed its roster by cutting 2014 fifth-overall pick Michael Dal Colle (Islanders), Spencer Watson (Kings) and potential 2016 first-round picks Pierre-Luc Dubois and blueliner Jakob Chychrun.