Canucks pick Jake Virtanen suspended for headshot in WHL playoffs

Buzzing The Net
Jake Virtanen shakes hands with Vancouver Canucks officials after being chosen sixth overall during the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 27, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Jake Virtanen shakes hands with Vancouver Canucks officials after being chosen sixth overall during the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 27, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Vancouver Canucks prospect Jake Virtanen has that bull-in-a-china-shop ability to throw crushing open-ice checks. With that type of pro hockey prospect, it's often not a matter whether they'll cross the line, but when.

One of those times came Friday, when Virtanen was called for charging after a headshot at centre ice during the Calgary Hitmen's eventual 9-4 loss to Brandon in the first game of the Western Hockey League semifinal. It came early in the third period on the shift immediately following a Brandon tally that opened a four-goal lead, which is often prime time to seek retribution. While Virtanen was not ejected, following the game the 18-year-old was placed under indefinite suspension. He's missed one game so far, as Brandon holds a 2-0 lead entering Game 3 on Tuesday in Calgary.

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It was definitely a poor choice by Virtanen, who was able to toe the line well enough as a contributor to Team Canada's run to gold at the world junior championship four months ago.

Physical players often struggle to stay on the side of what's acceptable at the junior level, where there are more severe penalties for contact to the head. How much should be read into that in terms of it posing a problem at the NHL level is debatable. Having that aggressiveness and man-among-boys strength meshed with skill is precisely why Virtanen went No. 6 overall in the draft last June. The big league is also a lot more laissez-faire about player safety than any of the junior leagues, who ought to be more severe since their athletes are teenagers who are less physically developed than pros and more vulnerable to injuries brain trauma. 

The WHL typically doesn't hand down suspensions that are long as those in the OHL, but one would expect the 18-year-old Virtanen to miss some more games. In the OHL that would be an eight-game suspension, at least.

(Stick tap for the GIF: Rhys Jessop @Thats_Offside

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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