Jake Virtanen Running Out Of PTO Runway With Oilers

On Wednesday night, Jake Virtanen drew in for his third game of the preseason, playing 15:29 on a team that didn’t have many NHL regulars on the game sheet for Edmonton. This contest against the Calgary Flames was an opportunity to show the Oilers organization that he had the goods to play a depth role for the team and to give GM Ken Holland a reason to seriously look at extending him a contract out of camp. Virtanen essentially blew it.

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The forward hasn’t looked dangerous in any of the three games he’s played thus far and with cuts coming soon and the Oilers starting to dress more veterans who need warming up before the regular season begins, Virtanen is likely to be among those sent elsewhere.

Virtanen Was a Long-Shot Anyways

Some fans looked at Virtanen coming in and the rumors of a pending trade and said this was a player the Oilers might be seriously looking at. I don’t believe that to be true. Instead, Edmonton needed fresh bodies and extras who could slot into a whack of preseason games in order to rest their stars. Five games in eight days were far too many and Virtanen was more likely a roster filler than a real threat to crack the lineup.

Jake Virtanen Vancouver Canucks
Jake Virtanen, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

His name was front page news simply because of the sexual abuse allegations against him. His production, however, hadn’t garnered attention and his previous play suggested he’d really need to shine in pre-season to be considered a possible addition. Remember, the Oilers don’t have room to add another player and it would have meant moving out a body first. Virtanen needed to show he could take the place of whatever player was heading out of town.

Virtanen Was Being Given a Shot That He Might Not Have Deserved

Ignoring his off-ice issues, even if only looking at his on-ice numbers, Virtanen was being given an opportunity that he probably didn’t deserve. As Jonathan Willis of The Athletic pointed out in a Twitter thread on Wednesday evening, “1st rounders get tons of rope – big guys have to prove they can’t play – big fast guys really really have to prove they can’t play, regardless of hockey IQ, work ethic or defensive commitment.” He’s suggesting this is the boat Virtanen was in.

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Willis added that if looking at Virtanen through the “lens of on-ice accomplishment”, the player had only five points in hs last NHL season, he’d been a middle-six KHL guy — one that was outscored “by a pile of AHL-types” — and he’d been over shined by players not actively in the NHL. Willis argues that had Virtanen been a late-round pick, he would have been dismissed as a player some time ago.

He Hasn’t Offered an Intangible Or Shown a Sense Of Urgency

If Virtanen was going to crack the roster, he was going to need to give Edmonton something useful beyond just a top-nine option on offense. This meant that he’d need to be able to kill penalties, win faceoffs, or play a hard forechecking game. In other words, do something. In three games, he played exactly zero minutes shorthanded and was hardly noticeable.

Jay Woodcroft Edmonton Oilers
Jay Woodcroft, Edmonton Oilers head coach (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

There has been nothing of note in his game thus far. He’s not stood out as good and he’s not stood out as bad: he’s simply been invisible and that’s not going to lead him to a spot on this Oilers roster. This is a player who was being given a small window to work himself back into the NHL. He certainly hasn’t seized it. That’s not a good sign if a team like Edmonton is looking for players who can and will show up in the playoffs.

This was potentially Virtanen’s last shot at being in this league and he hasn’t at all played like he realizes that.

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