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Canucks prospect Virtanen ahead of schedule with shoulder rehab

Sunaya Sapurji
Buzzing The Net

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BROSSARD, QUE. — While the other players at Team Canada's summer camp skate are talking to the media after practice, Jake Virtanen is alone on the ice putting a few pucks in the net.

The 17-year-old figured it was only the fifth time skating out on the ice this summer since undergoing a successful shoulder surgery some two months ago. The operation meant he couldn't participate in the NHL combine, but that didn't prevent him from being selected sixth-overall at the June draft by the Vancouver Canucks.

It's also prevented him from taking part in any drills here at camp with Team Canada. The good news, however, is that Virtanen's recovery is going much better than expected.

"Right now I'm ahead of schedule," said the winger, who plays with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen. "So that's good news. I know the doctor here said I'll be biting the bone just wanting to get on the ice playing because I'm ahead of schedule quite a bit - so it's good news."

Virtanen figures he's at least two or three weeks ahead of where he should be at this point and is working with a physiotherapist every day back home in Abbotsford, B.C. Coming to camp he says is almost like a vacation from his vigorous rehab regime.

"This is kind of like a week off for me really," said Virtanen, with a laugh.

"I'm only getting on the ice about 15 minutes a day right now," added Virtanen on Tuesday, while watching Canada's other hopefuls from the press box. But I'm loving it right now, it's pretty special to get out there and just to get the feeling again of shooting is pretty nice."

Watching everyone else try to make an impression on head coach Benoit Groulx, while he's stuck in the press box, however, isn't easy to stomach. There is some solace though, in being able to scope out his competition for a highly coveted roster spot come December.

"It does suck," said Virtanen, of skating alone. "But you definitely get to see what you're up against. All the guys are good out here so I think when I get back for the season I've got to show what I can do once I'm back in Calgary this year and show these coaches what I can bring to the team."

With the Hitmen last season the 6-foot-1, 208-pound forward scored 45 goals and added 26 assists in 71 games - a point per game clip. His size and scoring as the tournament moves back to the smaller ice surfaces in Toronto and Montreal should give him a fighting chance if he picks up where he left off in the WHL.

"The goal is to make this team," said Virtanen. "I'm here just trying to experience everything and so far it's going really good."

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