The Edmonton Oilers' preseason and training camp schedule is winding down to a close and PTO invitee Jake Virtanen is still hanging around.
The former Vancouver Canucks forward is still trying to earn himself a contract for the 2022-23 season, despite some pretty mediocre play for the Oilers so far. Still... when you're 230 pounds and can skate like the wind, you'll earn yourself some opportunities. Thing thing is, Virtanen's opportunities look to be coming to an end if he can make an impression for the Oilers tonight against his former team in Vancouver.
Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft issued a bit of a challenge for Virtanen this evening, stating that “It’s incumbent that he has a good game,” tonight if Virtanen wants to earn himself a regular roster spot with the team.
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It certainly appears that tonight's game is a "now or never" moment for Virtanen and a game that may ultimately shape his professional career moving forward. Is he forever going to be one of those "what if" examples or will he establish a "late bloomer" career in the NHL? I'm willing to bet the former outcome is more likely than the latter... but that's only because I've witnessed much of Virtanen's 317 game NHL career.
The fact of the matter is that Virtanen has had opportunities handed to him since the day he was drafted into the NHL, but he has failed to capitalize on any of his chances. He put up just five points in 38 games with the Canucks during his last NHL season and wasn't even in the top 100 of KHL scorers this past season. His career high is 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games and that came in a campaign where his point totals looked to be juiced a bit in order to prep him for a trade. In the end, Virtanen earned himself another contract which the Canucks quickly bought out.
Frankly though, I'm kind of pulling for Jake. He may not be the most like-able player in the NHL, but who doesn't love a good redemption tale?