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Monday Musings: Jake Virtanen PTO, Good Quotes, and More

So far 12 NHL veterans have signed Professional Tryouts (PTO) with various NHL teams. Others are considering their options, including Jake Virtanen. The Oilers offered him a PTO and are waiting to hear if he will sign it. Virtanen played in the KHL last year due to a pending sexual assault criminal case. The case wrapped up this past July and Virtanen was found not guilty. There is still a civil lawsuit pending against him. No trial date has been set.

As stated in this report, “Very little corroborating evidence was presented by either side, leaving the jury only with two differing versions of the night in question.” Sexual assault cases can be very difficult to prove especially when it is basically he said-she said. Virtanen was 20 years of age during their 2017 encounter. He and the woman met months earlier in Calgary and exchanged text messages for months before meeting at the hotel. Virtanen said the sex was consensual. The woman said it wasn’t.

Virtanen was found not guilty this past July, and now he can try to revive his NHL career.

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He was the sixth overall pick in 2014. He made his NHL debut the following season with the Vancouver Canucks and produced 7-6-13 in 55 games. The next season he spent mainly in the AHL scoring 9-10-19 in 65 games. He did play 10 NHL games, but only produced one assist. He’s another prime example of why rushing teenagers to the NHL rarely works. He wasn’t NHL ready at 19, then lost his confidence and struggled as a 20-year-old.

In his third pro season he started taking some positive strides and scored 10-10-20. Between 2018-2020 Virtanen played the third most games (177) with the Canucks, and produced his goal and point totals improved every season going from 10 to 15 to 18 goals and 20 to 25 to 36 points.  His possession numbers weren’t great, but he was looking like a capable NHL player. But then in the COVID-shortened 2021 season he produced only five points in 38 games, and then in May of 2021 a woman filed a police report against Virtanen, and he was placed on leave by the Canucks. Two months later he was placed on waivers and bought out of the final year of his contract in July. Virtanen played in the KHL last season.

Virtanen stands 6’1″ and is 225-230 pounds. He is physical. He averaged 9.89 hits/60 or higher in five of his six NHL seasons. With Zack Kassian and Josh Archibald no longer on the team, the Oilers have a void of physical players in their bottom six. A PTO is a very low-risk option. The Oilers can use training camp and the preseason to determine if he can still be an effective NHL player. If not, then they release him and move on.

OTHER NOTES…

May 31, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Evander Kane (91) scores a goal against Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) in the first period in game one of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Some interesting names have already signed PTOs.

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Eric Staal (1,293 NHL games) in Florida, Calvin de Haan (520 GP) and Derek Stepan (817) in Carolina, James Neal (869) in Columbus, Cody Eakin (701) with Calgary, Danny DeKeyser (547) in Vancouver, Jimmy Vesey (422) with the New York Rangers, Nathan Beaulieu (419) in Anaheim, Tyler Pitlick (325), Zach Aston-Reese (230) with Toronto, Scott Harrington (210) in San Jose and goaltender Andrew Hammond with Florida.

Edmonton did offer Aston-Reese a PTO, but he opted to sign with Toronto. I wonder if the Oilers extend an offer to Tyler Motte? I’d also extend a PTO to PK Subban. I’d be open and honest and tell him he’d come here battling for the #7 job to start as the Oilers have three starting RD, and if he says he’s good with that I’d bring him in. He is looking for an opportunity and as we get closer to camp, veterans who were hoping to sign NHL contracts, will have to accept a PTO and get into camp and show what they can do.

Quotes To Remember…

I’ve interviewed many Oilers this summer, usually after they signed a new contract or an extension. I didn’t write an article on each one, but here are some of the quotes that stood out.

Evander Kane…

I asked Kane how he was able to neutralize Matthew Tkachuk in games 2-5 of the Battle of Alberta?

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“I think a big part of playoffs, just because you play each other every other night and the battle intensifies, I think that a big part of playoff hockey is the mental game. And that it gets overlooked a lot, especially in today’s game. But it can definitely be a useful tool against other teams, and especially other players. I think he’s a guy who likes to talk and yip and yap and make gestures. Nobody can say anything to me that I haven’t already heard, so it’s no skin off of my back. Sometimes when the shoe is on the other foot, people have a tough time handling it. I think that the mental aspect of maybe us competing against each other deterred him a little bit.”

It is too bad Tkachuk is in Florida now. Will Kane and Nazem Kadri have a similar rivalry this season?

Kailer Yamamoto…

Yamamoto isn’t the biggest guy. He’s been small his entire playing career, and he’s adapted at every level. He would like to add some weight though.

“I would say that I am like 160 pounds right now. If I could gain five to ten pounds, which would be pushing it, but if I could gain five to ten pounds, that would be an ideal weight for me. And 170 is almost, for me, I might feel a little slow, but if I got to 165 I think that that would be a great weight for me, and most importantly I’d have that little extra armour, that would be great.”

He was 150 pounds a few years ago so he’s actually added 10 pounds of weight and would like to add five more. It likely won’t be noticeable to the naked eye, but as he said it will give him some extra armour as well as more strength.

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Jack Campbell…

On the pressure of playing in a Hockey-mad market with a new big contract.

“I definitely feel like playing in Toronto prepared me for this moment of going to a contender and expecting to win right away. That’s so exciting and the things that I learned, I truly feel prepared and ready for this moment and just really enjoyed my time in Toronto. When fans live and breathe hockey, it’s awesome and it makes you want to be the best professional you can be and ultimately, that’s what I want– to be the best I can be every single day. There is no better place to do that, for me, than Edmonton.”

“Expecting to win right away.” Those words haven’t been uttered in Edmonton in many years.

Brett Kulak…

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On why he wanted to go through the free agent experience.

“I’m glad I did it and the way everything worked out with me landing back in Edmonton was great. It was a good experience overall and you know what led me to that situation and that decision to go through it on free agency day, I just leaned in on my peers a little bit and guys who had been through free agency. Just reaching out to guys and they’re like, ‘You know what, free agency is tomorrow, may as well go through it. It might be the only time in your career you get to experience it.’

“It was cool getting calls from teams and talking to different coaches and, like you say, them trying to lure you in and bring you to their team. But at the end of the day, I’m happy I’m still with the Oilers and I can look forward to the next four seasons.

What was it like preparing to go through that free agency?

“As it got closer and closer I think I was just more excited. But it had been a stressful couple of weeks. It’s a big decision at this point in my career, and there are so many things you think about and you want to make the best decision possible for me on the ice, and my family situation off the ice. It’s all unknown what the future holds, but you just try to picture yourself in situations with what team or wherever. So that’s about all you can prepare is just ask yourself some questions, what you want and why. And I leaned on my wife a lot too and asked what she wanted. Then we just kind of let things play out after that.”

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Free agency can be both stressful and euphoric. It is a major decision for a player. Players hope they pick the right team and situation, but as we’ve seen it doesn’t always work out that way.

Quick Hits…

Evan Rodrigues finally got a contract, but likely not the one he was expecting when free agency began in July. He signed a one-year, $2m deal today with Colorado. He scored 19 goals and 43 points last season with the Penguins and many felt he’d get a multi-year deal with at least a $3m AAV. It didn’t transpire and now he has a show-me contract with the Avs. Timing is huge, and I wonder if a contending team would consider saving $3-$4m in cap space for late August and early September, when you can sign players for much lower AAV than what happens the first week of free-agent frenzy?

The Oilers are already in LTIR, but they aren’t alone. There could be 10, possibly more, teams who have to start in LTIR. Assistant GM and capologist, Bill Scott, joined us on the DailyFaceoff Podcast to discuss managing the cap, the differences of being in LTIR in the off-season compared to going into LTIR during the season and other cap related topics. You can listen to it here or download it anywhere you get your Podcasts.

#NATIONVACATION TO LAS VEGAS

  • When: On Thursday, January 12th, we’re jumping on a flight at the Edmonton International Airport and making our way to Vegas. On Sunday evening, we’ll fly back from Vegas to Edmonton. So the dates that you need to block off for this trip are January 12th to 15th.
  • Where we’re staying: After landing in LV, we’ll jump on the free shuttle and make our way to the Park MGM before settling in for a good night’s sleep. 😉
  • What you get: Your roundtrip flight, hotel, shuttle, viewing party (Friday night), game entry — we got seats this time (Saturday night), and exclusive entry into our pre-trip ‘get to know everyone’ event.
  • How Much: The total cost for the trip, flight, hotel, and entry to the game is $1499 per person (based on double occupancy) 
  • Tickets: Ready to dive in? Click this link.

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