Jake Virtanen in American Hockey League action against the Toronto Marlies at Air Canada Centre on Nov. 26, 2016. The 2014 first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks has two assists in seven AHL games this season.
The 20-year-old prospect is trying to find his game with the AHL's Utica Comets.
Jake Virtanen still has no idea what stuff he was supposed to collect during his last visit to Vancouver.
The Canucks recalled Virtanen from the AHL's Utica Comets after just two games in mid-November. After sitting out as a healthy scratch for two games, Virtanen was once again on a plane bound for Utica. At the time, Canucks coach Willie Desjardins turned some heads with his explanation of Virtanen's brief recall.
“We were on the road, and so I don’t think he had any of his stuff,” Desjardins said per The Province. “He needed to come back to get his stuff for us to kind of make a decision on where we’re going to go at with him. When you’re on the road you don’t have anything.
“If you’re going to go down (to the AHL) for a while, you need to go back and get (your stuff).”
Asked about the whirlwind couple days, Virtanen says he was just following team orders.
"Honestly, I was just doing what I was told," Virtanen told THN on Saturday. "I wasn’t going to say much, but yeah, I didn’t play for a little bit there: two games on the road trip (against the Islanders and Rangers). Get sent down, play two games and then back to Vancouver, didn’t play and then sent back (to Utica).
"It’s just business and that’s just how things are going to work. I dunno exactly what (the plan is) they didn’t really communicate with me as much."
As for getting "his stuff", Virtanen, Vancouver's 2014 first-round selection, has no idea what his coach was talking about.
"I honestly have no idea, to be honest," he said. "I actually still don’t understand that really."
On the ice, the Canucks are looking for more consistency from the 20-year-old. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound forward scored seven goals and six assists in 55 games during his rookie season while finishing second on the team with 128 hits.
This season, Virtanen has one assist in 10 games with the Canucks while also watching six games as a healthy scratch.
Virtanen, who was partnered with Curtis Valk and Darren Archibald during the Comets 4-1 loss to the Toronto Marlies on Saturday, was averaging just 10:09 a night in ice time with the Canucks this season.
The Abbotsford, B.C. native is hoping added ice time while with the Comets will help him find his game. Known as a power forward, who can contribute offensively, Virtanen scored 85 goals and 161 points in 192 games over parts of four seasons with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen.
"Playing 20 minutes a night almost is pretty nice," he said. "You’ve got to get that feeling back from junior, that’s what I’m trying to build off. I was playing all the time in junior and I want to come down here and play lots of minutes and get that confidence."
Virtanen admitted his game likely would've benefitted from a season in the AHL prior to making the jump to the NHL. However, as a 19-year-old last season the Canucks had just two options: either return him to Calgary or keep him with the NHL club.
"For the development, I bet you Vancouver would’ve wanted me come down here for a year, just for the experience," Virtanen said. "But with the whole 20-year-old thing, they had to send me here this year. Obviously my goal is to get back to Vancouver as quick as possible and that’s what I want to do."
In seven AHL games this season Virtanen has two assists - he's yet to find the back of the net at either level this season. Virtanen's last goal came on March 14 against the Winnipeg Jets.
"Like a lot of young players, there’s a lot of things that he’s got to work on," said Comets coach Travis Green. "I think his details in his game still have to improve. I think getting playing time is going to help him, solid practice time will help his overall game."
The Canucks entered Saturday's play with the 27th ranked offense. Virtanen, who has shown he can score at the NHL level, could certainly help in Vancouver, if he can regain his scoring touch.
In order to earn another recall, Virtanen knows what he needs to work on.
"They wanted me to come down, play lots of minutes, practice lots, it’s definitely a different league: faster down here, I feel," Virtanen said. "Guys are working 100 per cent every shift so you’ve got to be able to keep up with that and bring that back to Vancouver.
"When I get that call hopefully back up to Van, I want to be up there as soon as possible and show that I belong."
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.