There are few prospects more polarizing in the NHL than Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen.
Whatever your opinion, what’ll matter to Virtanen is that of his coach. And Travis Green sounds pretty confident that Virtanen can still grow into a solid NHL player.
“Some people think being sent down to the AHL is a big demotion but I think it was a great learning situation for him,” Green said in an appearance on The Playbook on Sportsnet 650. “I thought the year was good for him.”
Virtanen, the sixth-overall pick in 2014, appeared in 55 games for the Canucks during in the 2015-16 season as an 19-year-old. But after only 10 games last year, he was demoted to the Comets. He finished the year in the AHL, scoring nine goals and 19 points in 65 games while unknowingly auditioning for the new Canucks head coach, who was the boss in Utica at the time.
While the points don’t jump off the page, Green says he thought Virtanen was “snake bit” and could have scored 20 goals in the AHL.
“But for me it wasn’t about whether he was going to score or not score,” Green added. “It was about what he learned about himself and how he had to play the game.”
Green says the pressure that comes with being demoted gave Virtanen a chance to learn more about himself as a player.
“A lot of young guys have it easy and at some point in your career you always go through adversity,” Green said. “And to go through adversity, which I thought he did down there a little bit, it’s good for players.”
Still, if Virtanen does begin the season with the Canucks, it will be because he earned the spot. Green doesn’t believe in slotting guys into a particular position. Instead, Green has told Virtanen that his goal should simply be to become a regular NHL player, whether it’s as a scorer or a checker.
“For me it’s just make the NHL and be a part of a team that wins. Make yourself into an everyday NHL player that has a long career,” Green said. “I think that should be his goal right now. I don’t think we need to predict whether he’s going to be in the top six or bottom six.”