“He’s like, ‘I’ve told you 30 times. I’ve told you for two years to do this,’ ” Virtanen said Tuesday. “It’s a little thing and sometimes he gets frustrated Christopher Tanev Jersey, but I’m a young guy. I’m still learning.”
Virtanen was asked if Green’s constant harping, which has followed him from Utica to Vancouver over the last two seasons, ever gets annoying.
“Sometimes when you’re out there playing and he’s yelling at you, you’re just like pause you know,” the Canucks’ winger answers. “But it’s all good. He’s a really honest coach. He’s hard on me but it’s nice to have a coach who cares. I’ve learned a lot from Travis.”
Just as the faithful are starting to learn a lot about Virtanen.
Virtanen and Green have now been together for 18 months and the wonder isn’t that the kid from Abbotsford is finally fulfilling his sky high potential under the Canucks’ head coach. No, the wonder is one hasn’t done bodily harm to the other as Green tries every coaching trick in the book to mould Virtanen into an NHL player.
Has all the cajoling, imploring, nagging and scolding paid off? We’ll know soon enough, but following Virtanen’s bravura performance against the New York Islanders on Monday night, Green said his difficult pupil has “definitely turned a corner.” Where he heads coming out of the turn is the next question. But considering where he was this time last year, the least you can say about Virtanen is he seems to be moving in the right direction.
“Travis was really good for him last year,” said Canucks assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner, who had a front row seat for the Travis and Jake Show as as an assistant in Utica.
“I think the time and effort the whole staff put in with him helped. We knew we had to work with him, that he had some deficiencies in his game and his training. He needed to learn. I think that was a building block for this year.”
And a lot of labour went into building that block.
In the fall of 2016, Virtanen was dispatched to Utica after he had made a mess of his second NHL camp while inviting unflattering comparisons to some of the great first round busts in Canucks’ history. At the time, it felt like the Canucks were sending their wayward teenager to military school to get him back on track, which seemed like a fine strategy.
But what followed was nine goals and 19 points in 65 AHL games, totals that aren’t exactly consistent with the development arc of a player taken sixth overall in the NHL draft.
Those close to Virtanen, however, maintain there was another story taking place in Utica. While it didn’t show up on the scoresheet, he learned from dedicated pros like Darren Archibald and Alex Biega about being, well, a dedicated pro, proving once more all good things come from The Bulldog. Veterans AHLers Carter Bancks and Wacey Hamilton also helped.
Then there was Green and his assistants Baumgartner and Jason King drumming home the same message. The issue with Virtanen has never been talent. It’s channelling that talent in a productive, consistent manner which, unfortunately, isn’t as easy as it sounds. “Every night counts,” Virtanen said https://www.vancanucksfans.com/michael-del-zotto-jersey-c-9.html, reciting the mantra that was drilled into him. “Every practice counts. You have to be a pro every day. You have to be consistent.”
Baumgartner advises that process required constant vigilance.
“Keeping your thumb on him,” Baumgartner answered when asked to describe the approach. “There are players you have to do to that with consistently, and he was one of them at that point.
“But there’s an understanding there and he was ready to listen. For a guy picked that high https://www.vancanucksfans.com/alex-biega-jersey-c-10.html, then spending a year in the minors after he played a whole year in the NHL in his rookie season , that’s got to be tough mentally. I think Jake realizes we all want the best for him.”
And slowly it’s being brought out. The game against the Islanders, where Virtanen registered a goal, an assist, four shots, five hits and two takeaways — LeBron doesn’t fill up the scoresheet like that — represented a high water mark but, for the last four weeks, he’s been providing something on a nightly basis.
With the unfortunate injury to Brock Boeser, Virtanen now figures to see feature minutes on a line with Bo Horvat and Brendan Leipsic. His continued development, in fact, has suddenly become one of the feel good stories to this Canucks season. If he becomes a legitimate top six power forward, it changes a lot of things for this franchise because, let’s be honest, that didn’t seem very likely a year ago.
“I give him credit,” Green said. “There were times in Utica when he was playing nine, 10 minutes a night and he wasn’t scoring. He’s been through some adversity but any team that wins a Stanley Cup has to go through adversity.”
Virtanen is asked if he ever compares his current situation to last year’s.