Hard part yet to come for young pair
Cracking Canucks step 1 for Boeser, Virtanen Weekend, October 6-9, 2017
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.’’
Brock Boeser, left, and Jake Virtanen 2017-2018