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How Canucks are Handling McCann and Virtanen

As the first month of the NHL season draws to a close, would you have guessed that the Vancouver Canucks’ leading goal scorer would be Jared McCann?

What’s more impressive is that McCann has a team-leading four goals while earning less than 11 minutes of ice time per game. In addition, McCann has been a healthy scratch for two games. Sure, the 33.3 percent shooting is unsustainable, but McCann’s quick release looks NHL-ready.

So McCann must be benefitting from playing alongside some good linemates, like the Sedins or Radim Vrbata? Guess again. His linemates in the Canucks’ most recent game, a 5-1 win over Montreal in which McCann scored two goals, were grinders Derek Dorsett and Brandon Prust. If you can make it with those guys, then perhaps you can make it with anyone.

McCann is two games away from the end of his nine-game trial, while fellow rookie Jake Virtanen is three games away. After nine games has elapsed for both players, Canucks’ brass will need to decide whether McCann and Virtanen will spend the entire season in the NHL or be sent back to their junior teams in the OHL and WHL, respectively.

With McCann averaging 10:43 per game and Virtanen averaging a paltry 9:15 of ice time, has Canucks’ coach Willie Desjardins been fair to the rookies in this important evaluation period? Many in the Canucks’ fanbase are screaming for “Willie D” to play his rookies more. However, a comparison hasn’t been made with rookies on other teams who are on a similar nine-game trial.

Here’s a list of prominent rookies who are still eligible to be sent back to junior, along with their respective icetimes.

Name TOI
Jack Eichel 19:26
Connor McDavid 18:12
Noah Hanifin 16:58
Nikolai Ehlers 14:53
Jared McCann 10:43
Daniel Sprong 10:07
Jake Virtanen 9:15
Robby Fabbri 8:33

McDavid and Eichel are in a league of their own and seem to be a certainty to stay in the NHL all season. Their ice time will be higher than the others for that reason.

Hanifin is a defenseman, so his ice time will naturally be higher than the other players on the list, who are all forwards.

Fabbri has played only three games due to a concussion, so there simply isn’t as much data here as there are with the others.

That leaves the most appropriate players for McCann and Virtanen to be compared with as Ehlers and Sprong. Ehlers was chosen three spots after Virtanen and 15 spots before McCann in the 2014 draft. Sprong was chosen in the second round of the 2015 draft, which makes him a surprise that he’s even made it this far this quickly.

The difference between the Canucks’ rookies and Ehlers is that the Jets have Ehlers on a scoring line with Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault. Sprong has spent the majority of his time on the bottom six with Kevin Porter, with the two splitting their time between Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen as their centers. Cracking the Penguins’ top-6 is nearly impossible anyway, particularly for a rookie.

The Canucks treated Bo Horvat in a similar manner last season before agreeing to keep him past his nine-game trial. Horvat exceeded ten minutes of ice time only twice in his nine-game trial before Desjardins agreed to keep him on the roster all season. So the thought of keeping one if not both rookies on the roster all season is a distinct possibility.

Desjardins’ argument on the rookies’ lack of ice time will be that they need to pay their dues and earn their spot in the top six. Although Horvat’s play improved as the 2014-15 season went on, he has not even been a second-line player until this season.

Giving Virtanen and McCann similar minutes to McDavid and Eichel would simply be too much for the rookies to handle, not to mention unfair for veterans who have earned their ice time. A small increase in ice time to create a few additional opportunities would be a reasonable ask here, though, but that’s about it. Hopefully that’s what we’ll see if Virtanen and/or McCann stay with the Canucks all season.


Line combinations courtesy Frozen Pool.

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