Vancouver Canucks: Virtanen, McCann Could Head to Juniors Following WJC


Vancouver Canucks rookies Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann are struggling in the NHL. Both could be sent back to their respective junior teams following the World Junior Championships.

Vancouver Canucks winger Jake Virtanen has completed his AHL conditioning stint and joined Hockey Canada’s U20 roster for the 2016 World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland. A decision on centre Jared McCann will be made within the next couple of days.

According to former NHL player and insider Garry Valk, Virtanen could be sent back to his junior team, the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, following the tournament.

Disregarding the decision on McCann, would it make sense to send either one of the players back to juniors, especially if they are successful at the World Juniors? That, again, is a tough decision to make.

So far this season, Virtanen and McCann have recorded four and nine points, respectively. Considering that both players’ defensive abilities are in large part responsible for the fact that they made the NHL in the first place, their production is not all that bad. However, for a team that still wants to make the playoffs, that is not enough.

The Case for Virtanen

Through 19 games, Virtanen averaged less than 10 minutes of ice time, mostly playing on the Canucks’ third line. As a young player, the most important thing is ice time. It is important for a player’s development, as well as his confidence.

Confidence is one thing Virtanen might be lacking right now. Things were not really going his way in Vancouver, then he got injured and went scoreless in two contests with the AHL’s Utica Comets. As a power forward that is used to scoring a point per game in juniors, that hurts the confidence.

However, the World Junior Championships might be enough to regain that confidence. Virtanen is a returning player and will likely play on the first line of what might be the best team in junior hockey. Leading that team to another medal, after winning gold last year, should be enough to recover that scoring confidence.

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Then there is the developmental factor. Another season in the WHL could simply give Virtanen more time to refine his skills and come back as an even better player next year. The Hitmen are a top-10 team in the WHL, and Virtanen might be the missing piece to take them all the way to a championship.

Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl is an example for how it can work. The German centre had nine points in 37 goals in his rookie season, was sent down to the WHL, recorded 53 points in 32 regular season games with the Kelowna Rockets, added another 28 in 19 playoff games, and yet another seven in five Memorial Cup match-ups. He was named MVP of the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup. Now back in Edmonton, Draisaitl is the club’s first-line centre and has 27 points in 22 games.

Virtanen is currently one of Vancouver’s best forwards defensively, but the goal should be to have a scoring power forward. There is no inevitable need to send him back to juniors, but it certainly would not hurt.

The Case for McCann

McCann’s situation is a little bit different. With Brandon Sutter out of the lineup, McCann played his way up into the team’s second line, where he centres Chris Higgins and Radim Vrbata. If they let McCann go, Bo Horvat, who is also struggling, will have to fill in for him. Nothing terrible, but a fact to consider.

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Despite being the team’s second-line centre, McCann averages just over 10 minutes of ice time per game. He, too, could profit from getting a lot of ice time on a top team at the World Junior Championships, and then with his junior team.

Unfortunately, McCann’s junior team, the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Mary Greyhounds, are not as successful as the Hitmen right now. Roughly 30 games into the season, they are only two points away from being last in their division. McCann is probably good enough to change that all by himself, but the effect would not be the one Draisaitl experienced and Virtanen would experience.

Still, there is a good option to help that situation: a trade. Draisaitl’s WHL rights were owned by the Prince Albert Raiders, but traded on to the Kelowna Rockets before he was sent down. If the Canucks could ensure that McCann plays for a winning team if sent down to the OHL, there is no big reason why they should keep him.


Both Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann could certainly profit from playing in juniors for another season — or rather half of one. They could lead Team Canada to another medal at the World Junior Championships, go on a deep playoff run with their respective CHL teams, and come back as even better players next summer.

The Canucks already “burned” the first year of the duo’s entry-level contracts, but they will still save a year of restricted free agency if they send them back down before the 39-game mark.

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Vancouver could still make the playoffs, but judging by their record, they are rather a losing team right now. Limited ice time on a losing team? That does not sound like a good environment to develop young players.

Neither McCann nor Virtanen has to be sent down, but it could help both players.