The Canucks are getting a good look at their future down in Utica, as the Comets battle the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL Eastern Conference Final. Two prospects in particular, Sven Baertschi and Jake Virtanen, have elevated their games for the Comets. They’re both at different points in their careers, but find themselves forming a formidable second line for the Comets.
How They Got Here
Baertschi was acquired at the trade deadline from the Calgary Flames in exchange for a second-round draft pick. Although he is only 21 years old, he has played in 69 NHL games over four seasons. He fell out of favour in Calgary and has yet to stick around in the NHL for a full season.
Virtanen is in a different situation, with this being his first taste of professional hockey. He joined the Comets when his Calgary Hitmen were eliminated from the second round of the WHL playoffs. After his call-up to Utica, it wasn’t certain that he would even get into the line-up. He eventually suited up after an injury to Carter Bancks and started on the fourth line.
Comets head coach Travis Green soon put Virtanen on a line with Baertschi. They now make up the second line, which is centered by Canucks sixth round pick from 2010, Alex Friesen.
Game by game the line has gotten better for the Comets. Virtanen’s physical play has been noticeable on the ice, even if he is the youngest player in the series (behind Grand Rapids prospect Dylan Larkin by a month).
Griffins play-by-play man: “Boy, Virtanen better keep his head up because Evans (GRR enforcer) has had enough of him.” #Comets
— Grady S (@GradySas) May 29, 2015
The line’s success was highlighted when Baertschi scored a natural hat trick for the Comets during game three of the series. All three goals came during the second period, and the third one was assisted by Virtanen, his first point of the playoffs. The line combined for more points in game four, as Baertschi set up Alex Friesen for the game tying goal, although the Comets fell in overtime. All three players are seeing more ice time due to their impressive play. None might be more impressive than Virtanen, who continues to elevate his role on a veteran team.
Future Top Six Wingers for the Canucks?
There is a lot of hype around these two Canucks prospects, and that hype has only increased with their stellar playoff performances. Baertschi is waiver eligible next season, so the Canucks are likely to give him every chance to make the team come training camp next year.
During an interview on TSN 1040 Thursday, Canucks general manager Jim Benning wouldn’t say if Baertschi would play in the top six next year, but judging by his skill set it seems unlikely that he would drop down to a bottom-six role.
He managed to score two goals on the Canucks second line during the last game of the season, albeit against an Oilers team who were dreaming about McDavid by that point. He is more of a sniper than a set-up man and would likely benefit from playing with playmaking centre. If he makes the Canucks next season, he might be a good fit with either Nick Bonino or Bo Horvat as his centre.
Virtanen however, projects as more of a power forward. At first it seemed unlikely that he would be playing for the Canucks next season, but after his performance during the Calder Cup playoffs, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
Benning also has a desire to implement youth onto the Canucks. During his interview on TSN 1040 he said: “We are going to have some younger players on our team next year that are going to be fast and physical.”
Virtanen is all three of those things. With a strong training camp next year, he might just crack this Canucks team. It might not be long until the Abbotsford native suits up for the Canucks, and maybe even on a line with Baertschi.