Keep them up or send them down?
That is the happy dilemma facing Trevor Linden and the Vancouver Canucks as rookie forwards Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen stride confidently into the NHL at just 19 years of age.
As the nine-game mark nears, the Canucks front office must determine whether it is better to keep one or both of the young forwards with the big club and burn a year of their entry-level deals or send them back to junior for more seasoning.
“It will be a big threshold, for sure,” Linden told Hockey Central at Noon on Friday. “There’s lots to be encouraged [by]. This is all very positive.”
Linden explained that when he was hired 18 months ago, the team recognized a need to get younger and quicker, and to build a relatively thin prospect pool.
That youth movement is just beginning to make noise, as players such as Virtanen, McCann, Bo Horvat, and training camp surprise Ben Hutton have contributed to the Western Conference-leading Canucks’ 3-0-1 start.
“Not only their performance and the speed they bring but also the excitement they bring to our older players [is valuable],” Linden explained. “There’s a good feeling right now.”
McCann has already scored once and is a plus-2 in three games of action, skating an average of nearly 11 minutes per outing. Virtanen — a six-foot-one, 208-pound B.C. native — saw 12 shifts in his NHL debut Tuesday, a victory over the L.A. Kings.
“I think Jared is the most surprised to be here, as are we. We expected Jake to have a shot and kinda penciled him in,” Linden said. “Obviously, physically, he was the most mature out of them. But it’s a good problem to have, and we’re excited about the future.”
Both rookies are scheduled to become restricted free agents after the 2017-18 season.
Let the countdown to Game No. 10 begin.