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Canucks Live Blog: A litmus test against Oilers prospects, Jake Virtanen back on a PTO

Follow Ben Kuzma’s live dispatches from the Canucks’ third and final Young Stars Classic game, a litmus test against the Edmonton Oilers.

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PENTICTON — There’s always something special when the Vancouver Canucks clash with the Edmonton Oilers — even at the prospects level.

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The clubs took 2-0 records into the Young Stars Classic matinee finale Monday and there was buzz on and off the ice well before puck drop.

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Oilers winger Dylan Holloway might be the best player in this event and is pushing to open the season in Edmonton.

And aside from many Canucks prospects moving the assessment meter in the right direction — notably Danila Klimovich, Tristen Nielsen, Arshdeep Bains, Chase Wouters, Linus Karlsson and Arturs Silovs — how prospects fair in a tourney litmus test will be the true measure of packing potential with consistency.

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OK, let’s get this recap going

FIRST PERIOD

— Holloway announces his arrival by ringing backhander off the post past Silovs in opening minute.

— Holloway has the wheels, goes to wrap-around try in the second minute. Kid can play.

— Silovs stays square to foil Petrov. Oilers’ collective foot speed is impressive.

— Good awareness by Klimovich. Anticipates and nearly scores down low from tough angle.

— Sublime drop pass by Klimovich gives Gill a Grade-A scoring chance.

— Klimovich foiled after being sprung on breakaway.

— Wouters with shorthanded chance wide after hounding puck on penalty kill. Nielsen off for crosscheck.

— Karlsson draws slashing minor with late dangle to the net.

— Klimovich denied on early power-play chance in slot.

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— Holloway fights off check along wall in O-zone to get puck to Bourgault in slot for scoring chance.

— Shepard called for goalie slash on snow-shower attempt. Chiasson responds, draws roughing minor.

SECOND PERIOD

8:38 GOAL: Schaefer goes far glove side on Silovs to opening scoring.

13:10 GOAL: Holloway wheels around Nychuk and jams shorthanded shot far side. 2-0 Oilers.

15:10 GOAL: Karlsson comes right back on strong shift and slips one 5-hole from slot. 2-1 Oilers.

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THIRD PERIOD

— Kannok-Leipert gets the best of Engaras in spirited bout.

3:07 GOAL: Karlsson scores his second off a sharp angle on dangle from top of circle. 2-2.

6:26 GOAL: Long shot by Wanner hits a body, goes high end-over-end and eludes Silovs. 3-2 Oilers.

11:23 GOAL: Dubinsky goes around Nychuk in slot and whips backhander over Silovs. 4-2 Oilers.

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Holloway to have his day?

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In late August of 2019, well before COVID-19 struck to send the sporting world and general populace into a state of protective shock, an exhibition game between the Wisconsin Badgers and UBC gave us a glimpse of the NHL future.

There was diminutive speedster Cole Caufield wheeling and dealing to give an early indication that the Montreal Canadiens might have something special in making the mighty mite the 15th overall pick in the 2019 draft. Same story with Alex Turcotte, the U.S. National Team Development program standout, and fifth-overall selection by the Los Angeles Kings.

However, the real curiosity that day was Dylan Holloway.

The Canadian Junior Hockey League player of the year, who missed the 2019 NHL draft cutoff age date by eight days, was projected as a consensus 2020 top 10 pick. He piled up 88 points (40-48) in the 2018-19 season with Okotoks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League and would go 14th overall to the Edmonton Oilers. And that’s where it gets interesting.

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“Something with my skating just clicked last year (2018-19),” Holloway told Postmedia that day at UBC. “I’ve been working on it and I just felt faster and that helped quite a bit because I was able to see plays and make plays.”

The winger has been a standout at the Young Stars Classic and could start the season facing the Canucks on Oct. 12 at Rogers Place. But he’ll have to play his way on the roster with a strong pre-season performance.

The 6-foot-1, 203 pound Bragg Creek, Alta. native had 22 points (8-14) in 33 games last American Hockey League season with Bakersfield. On Saturday against the Flames, he scored twice, including a toe-drag and a laser wrister. His speed through the neutral zone had eyebrows arching.

Virtanen saga continues with PTO

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Jake Virtanen received a professional tryout Monday from the Oilers and it put the polarizing right winger’s plight back in the spotlight.

On July 26 at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, a jury found the former Canucks winger not guilty of sexual assault. He wept openly after the verdict that put an end to saga that started in January when the New Westminster native was charged as the result of an incident in a downtown Vancouver hotel in September of 2017.

Virtanen vowed to get back to the NHL and the obvious question is what does he have left in the tank at age 26?

He got a long leash from the Canucks organization to hopefully live up to the hype as a 2014 sixth-overall draft selection. He was placed on leave May 1, 2021 and then put on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a buyout on July 26 of that year.

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Virtanen played 36 games for Moscow Spartak last season in the Kontinental Hockey League and managed 16 points (9-7). His best season in Vancouver was 36 points (18-18) in 2019-20, but he could never find the consistency or the determination to evolve into a reliable producer.

So, now what?

Some in the industry think he can still play, but he’ll have to make the Oilers first and play at a bargain rate.

“He can probably play on the third line, but he’s got to grow up,” said an NHL scout. “This is his last chance.”

In a press conference Monday, he said he wants to prove he can be an effective power forward and feels like he’s in good condition. 

Both of those aspects went awry in Vancouver. When the spirit moves Virtanen he’s an asset, but poor conditioning often made him a Canucks liability. At a 2019 camp in Victoria, he was demoted from the main group in the first session for not meeting fitness goals.

“I loved Vancouver, they have a great organization,” Virtanen said Monday. “It was very tough though, because being a hometown guy and everyone knowing you. It was tough. But I really enjoyed it. There was a lot of pressure on me and I felt like I did alright.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com
twitter.com/@benkuzma

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