Vancouver Canucks WJC Update: Boeser over Virtanen, and More


Not much seems to be going well for the Vancouver Canucks lately.

The past few days have been frustrating times for all Vancouver Canucks. May I preach patience?

In a disappointing loss to the Los Angeles Kings where Sven Baertschi got hurt, Chris Higgins took a shot up high, and Ben Hutton managed to survive thanks to his facial visor, the Canucks surely missed a bit of Jake Virtanen‘s physicality.

Well, sorry Canucks fans, Virtanen is missing his own physicality. In fact, he is missing himself. The only Virtanen-sized hit from the World Juniors so far is this one against Switzerland, and he has yet to record a point after three games.

Jake Virtanen

TSN Analyst Bob McKenzie says the adjustment from the NHL back to junior is a tough one since a player like Virtanen has to step from a minor role in the NHL into a big leadership role at the World Juniors. GM Jim Benning said that Virtanen may find it difficult to play in a less-structured team in the World Juniors after playing a highly structured game at the NHL level. But regardless of what others say, plays like this continue add to Virtanen’s frustration, who has yet to record a point in the tournament’s group stages.

Virtanen was at a massive disadvantage, even before the tournament began.

If you remember last year’s World Juniors Final where Canada held on 5-4 over Russia, Virtanen’s boarding minor set the Russians off on a scoring rampage that changed a 5-1 Canada lead into a score of 5-4 before the second period was over. I don’t blame Virtanen if he has memories of that heading into this year’s tournament that keep him from playing a more physical game.

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The fact that Virtanen only has one minor penalty testifies to how cautious he has been this tournament. We wouldn’t worry about him being scoreless so much if he hadn’t looked so out of place with his physical game. Seeing those clips, we know that Virtanen can still hit and physically dominate the ice when given the opportunity.

So let us take hope in that Virtanen is the only Canadian in the squad with regular-season NHL action, that his international struggles do not translate in any way to his play in the NHL. After all, the junior game — especially under international officiating — calls more penalties than the NHL does.

Just look at that hit on Henrik Sedin. That was just another clean hit with the elbow down and zero head impact, on one of the whiny twin sisters, right? I swear that the earthquake two nights ago was Vancouver rumbling in displeasure as its captain got illegally hammered and the league did not take any action.

Brock Boeser

As for Brock Boeser, he might be the only Canuck left smiling on this planet. Boeser’s Team USA outmatched Virtanen and his Team Canada in a 4-2 win on Boxing Day. Boeser started the game on the third line, beside his NCAA North Dakota teammate Nick Schmaltz, and finished the game on the top line. On USA’s goal from Auston Matthews, Boeser was effective screening the Canadian netminder in the slot.

So far in Team USA action, Boeser has just one assist, but six shots and a plus-two rating. Getting ice time with Matthews certainly looks nice on Boeser’s resume, especially as an eighteen-year-old rookie in the NCAA. Though he was demoted back down to the third line with Schmaltz last game, Boeser will look to add to his totals on Thursday, when his US squad faces Team Denmark.

Nikita Tryamkin

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While the Juniors struggle in Finland, the Canadian squad at Spengler Cup has advanced to the finals, and will play for the championship against HC Lugano of the Swiss National League A. But more importantly, Canucks prospect Nikita Tryamkin had a great campaign for KHL Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, until his team got downed in the semifinals versus HC Lugano. Tyamkin had one assist and a plus-two rating in three games of Spengler Cup action.

The 66th overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft by the Canucks stands tall at 6-foot-7, 227 pounds, and at just 21 years of age, Tryamkin has played a top-four role for his KHL club after teammate Loginov Alexander got traded mid-season. Tryamkin is the team leader in hits (64 in 42 games) and the leading defenceman in goals (4). His minus-2 rating is best of all Yekaterinburg blue line regulars, and his 18:03 time on ice is good for fourth on the team.

With the most recent rise of Andrey Pedan giving Canucks fans a taste of a physically dominating defenceman, Vancouver can only hope that Tryamkin can transition from the KHL to the NHL and become a dominating force in front of a 6-foot-4 Jacob Markstrom. That might help Virtanen play more of his scoring game than his hitting game, knowing that a 6-foot-7 Tryamkin is sharing the physicality on the Canucks lineup.

Next: Canucks 2015 in Review: Grading the Trades

With all these injuries raining down on the Canucks, they surely miss Virtanen’s physically and Tryamkin’s giant frame. Is it possible that Tryamkin cracks the Canucks lineup next year as his KHL contract expries this year? How about Boeser and his “Patrick Sharp-comparable” skill set? With these three guys in the mix — and more, remind you — Vancouver might not be as far away as we think from putting together the next contender’s lineup.

Patience, I say, patience.