The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER–Jake Virtanen’s days were pretty packed after the Vancouver Canucks banished him to the AHL last season.
The sixth overall pick at the 2014 NHL draft would work out with his Utica Comets’ teammates, hit the ice for practice, then ride a stationary bike before heading home after lunch for a few hours of sleep.
He’d be back at the arena for another gym session or a meeting, or both, with head coach Travis Green as the player and organization looked to improve his fitness and help him rediscover his game.
While still a long way from realizing his potential, Virtanen is making a solid case to be in the lineup when the Canucks open the regular season.
The 21-year-old winger scored his third goal of the exhibition schedule, and Anders Nilsson made 30 saves, as Vancouver downed the Calgary Flames 3-1 last night.
“Whatever opportunity you can get, you want to go out there and make the most of it,” said Virtanen.
“Don’t go out there and overthink.”
The Abbotsford, B.C. native wanted to get back to the NHL as soon as possible last season but when it became clear he would spend the year in the minors, he embraced the opportunity to get better.
“I just really focused on taking as much advice from ‘Greener’ as I could, just putting that to use,” said Virtanen.
“I knew this year coming into [training] camp I had to really show what I could do,” he added. “So far I think I’ve done that.
“I’ve just got to keep pushing. There’s always room to improve.”
Hired as the Canucks’ new head coach in April, Green worked tirelessly in the AHL with Virtanen, who looks quicker and leaner while using his 6’1″, 215-pound frame at both ends of the ice.
“He used his speed when he needed to,” Green said of Virtanen’s performance last night.
“He played a good game.”
Michael Del Zotto and Darren Archibald, another forward fighting for a job, had the other goals for Vancouver while Sean Monahan replied for Calgary.
Mike Smith made 27 saves in taking the loss.
“That was our most complete game,” said Green.
“I liked the way we competed, I liked the way we created offence.”
In other pre-season action, Minnesota edged St. Louis 3-2, Chicago doubled Detroit 4-2, Florida beat Tampa Bay 5-2, Philadelphia dumped Boston 5-1, and Columbus nipped Nashville 4-3 (SO).
Colorado doubled Vegas 4-2, Anaheim blanked San Jose 3-0, and L.A. beat Arizona 4-1.