Virtanen will line-up alongside Daniel and Henrik Sedin as part of the Canucks top trio; coach Willie Desjardins said he wants to see how the 19-year-old skates and uses his physicality alongside two of the NHL’s premiere offensive threats.
If the results are as outstanding as they could be, Virtanen will continue making roster decisions very difficult for Canucks brass.
“It’s a lot closer now than when camp started,” said Desjardins of rookies pushing for spots. “All those guys have definitely stepped up.”
'All those guys' included Cole Cassels and Nicklas Jensen until Monday morning when they were two of six players assigned to Utica.
The remaining rookies include Jared McCann, Alex Grenier, Brendan Gaunce, Ben Hutton and Virtanen, and Desjardins reiterated spots will be made available for players that earn them.
“Where will players develop the most?” said coach, giving some insight into his decision-making process towards where rookies should play.
“In the end, that’s the most important thing – what’s best for their development?”
Virtanen said his development has come a long way and joining the Sedins will expedite it even more.
“I watched them play growing up, so to be able to jump on the ice with them and play on a line with them will be good,” said Virtanen, who asked Daniel for advice this morning during team skate.
“I asked him if they’re both cycling down low, where does he want me to be. He said to join the cycle with them and get to the net; I’ll try to make space for them by getting pucks in deep and just keeping it simple.
“It’s always a dream to play in the NHL and when you’re on a line with world-class players, you don’t want to go out there and have an average game, you want to go out there and be ready and be prepared for each and every shift. I’ll rest this afternoon and be ready for tonight.”
Jared McCann was also in search of advice this morning as he moves from centre to the left wing where he’ll play alongside Brandon Sutter and Alex Burrows.
“He said he was a little nervous,” laughed Sutter. “ I told him just to play his game and results will follow. He’s a smart player and he’ll be good.”
Jacob Markstrom starts in goal and is scheduled to play his first full game of the pre-season.