Hard part yet to come for young pair

Crack­ing Canucks step 1 for Boeser, Vir­ta­nen Week­end, Oc­to­ber 6-9, 2017

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - SPORTS -

Brock Boeser spent some ner­vous days in his ho­tel room, won­der­ing if he had done enough in train­ing camp and pre-sea­son to stick with the Van­cou­ver Canucks.

Jake Vir­ta­nen only re­al­ized he made the team af­ter see­ing the hockey bag of the player he was bat­tling for a spot packed and ready to be shipped off to the mi­nors.

Boeser, 20, and Vir­ta­nen, 21, are both on the re­build­ing Canucks’ open­ing night ros­ter, but it’s only the first step in what the young wingers hope will be long a jour­ney.

“Just be­cause I made the team doesn’t mean I’m go­ing to stay here,’’ said Boeser. “I’ve got to keep com­ing to prac­tice and work­ing my hard­est and mak­ing the most of my op­por­tu­ni­ties dur­ing games.’’

“This is where the real work be­gins,’’ added Vir­ta­nen.

The paths Boeser and Vir­ta­nen took to get to this point be­gan in sim­i­lar fashions be­fore veer­ing in vastly dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

The 23rd pick at the 2015 draft, it seemed like Boeser could do no wrong when he signed with the Canucks at the end of last sea­son fol­low­ing his sec­ond year at the Univer­sity of North Dakota. With great vi­sion and a deadly re­lease, the Burnsville, Minn., na­tive scored four goals in his first nine NHL games, giv­ing Van­cou­ver fans and man­age­ment hope at the end of a mis­er­able cam­paign.

Boeser fol­lowed that up with a strong Septem­ber where he reg­is­tered four goals and three as­sists in five out­ings, and de­spite tail­ing off a bit to­wards the end of the pre-sea­son, seemed like a lock to make the of­fen­sively starved Canucks.

“Brock mak­ing the team wasn’t about how many goals he scored,’’ said Van­cou­ver head coach Travis Green. “The way the game is played to­day, it’s de­tailed, but we want to play an of­fen­sive game.

“We know that’s an area in Sea­SOn OPener our game where we have to be bet­ter.’’

For his part, Boeser said he won’t be putting any ex­tra pres­sure on him­self to score for a team com­ing off a fran­chise-low 178 goals, but added that his per­for­mance last spring made him re­al­ize he has the abil­ity to fill a role as a top-six for­ward.

“I sur­prised my­self a lit­tle bit,’’ said Boeser. “But that just gives me con­fi­dence for this year know­ing I can play with these guys.’’

Vir­ta­nen, mean­while, was the sixth over­all pick in 2014 and came to Van­cou­ver the next sea­son with much fan­fare thanks to his of­fen­sive po­ten­tial, phys­i­cal style, and the fact he grew up in Ab­bots­ford.

He had a de­cent show­ing as a 19-year-old rookie with 13 points (seven goals, six as­sists) in 55 games. How­ever, Vir­ta­nen was ban­ished to the AHL’s Utica Comets last Novem­ber.

Vir­ta­nen is con­sid­er­ably leaner than he was listed at last sea­son and seems to have re­dis­cov­ered his scor­ing touch, fin­ish­ing the pre-sea­son with four goals and two as­sists in six games.

“Now it’s my spot to lose,’’ said Vir­ta­nen, who like Boeser wouldn’t re­quire waivers to be sent to Utica. “(Green) talked to me about be­ing hard to play against. I’ve got to go out there and be that kind of guy.’’

Rich Lam/Getty imaGes

Brock Boeser, left, and Jake Vir­ta­nen 2017-2018

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