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Virtanen and Boeser Battle for the Spotlight

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NHL: Preseason-Vancouver Canucks at Calgary Flames
Vancouver Canucks right wing Brock Boeser winds up before he scored on Calgary Flames goaltender Jon Gillies.
Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Early on during the Vancouver Canucks preseason game against the Calgary Flames, it looked like the road team was going to get clobbered.

Then came our lord and saviour, Brock Boeser.

He came roaring down the left wing, juked to the inside on a move that fooled both Brett Kulak and Matt Bartkowski, and snapped the puck past a bewildered Jon Gillies.

Yeah, we don’t blame you Jon.

The goal was Boeser’s fourth of the preseason, which currently leads the league. It’s been an impressive showing for the blue-chip prospect despite the lack of competition.

Just when you were about to get down and start kissing Boeser’s feet, some guy name Jake Virtanen showed up as well.

Virtanen was noticeable earlier in the game. After breaking up a two-on-zero rush, Virtanen sent the puck back up the ice, and Anton Rodin ended up capitalizing.

During the second period, while we were still all goggling over Boeser’s goal, Virtanen swooped in an stole our attention with an even nastier goal. Virtanen ripped down the right wing, and placed a perfect bad-angle shot over the shoulder of Gillies.

Sharing the Spotlight

There’s no doubt that Boeser has been far and away the most impressive Canuck this preseason. After scoring four goals in nine NHL games last season, Boeser has done nothing but prove he belongs back in the NHL.

Even though Boeser has done his best to steal the spotlight, Virtanen hasn’t given it up so easily. There are always eyes on Virtanen, but his high-tempo, rough and tumble play has brought him into the roster conversation.

Before preseason kicked off, most would have assumed that Virtanen was destined for Utica. For those who didn’t watch him play, staring at a score sheet of 19 points in 65 games doesn’t scream NHL-ready.

There is the notion that Virtanen was snake-bitten in Utica, something that Travis Green Utica Comets beat writer Ben Birnell both alluded to.

Virtanen did improve his overall game as the season progressed, and it’s shown here in preseason. It’s not the first time that Virtanen has excelled in September, but he looks better than he did last year. Injuries may have played a part, but a healthy and slimmer Virtanen looks poised to make a strong push for a roster spot with the Canucks.

Premature Praise?

Boeser and Virtanen have both been fun to watch so far. Even though the Canucks have faced light competition, the first overall picks from 2014 and 2015 have arguably been the best Canucks to watch.

Still, the lack of competition might still be an issue, for both players. This applies more to Virtanen than Boeser, but there should be more question about their readiness for the NHL regular season.

It’s easy to gush and get overly excited about preseason play. Heck, there isn’t much else to get excited for if your a Canucks fan.

The brakes do need to be pumped a bit on expectations for these two players. Boeser by all means is NHL-ready. He arguably has the best set of hands in the organization, and he’s only played nine NHL games. It’s always hard to know how rookies will handle the rigors of an 82-game schedule, and even Boeser is likely to wear down at some point.

Consistency is important. Remember Jared McCann? He had five goals in his first nine games, but he’s only scored another five in his last 89 games. Boeser isn’t McCann, but consistency is more crucial than a hot start.

Despite his preseason success, Virtanen is still turning the puck over at times. Instead of making the simple play, he tends to try something fancy. That might have worked in the CHL, but it’s not going to work very often at the NHL level.

There’s some polishing that needs to be done with his game, but can he polish it at the NHL level? If Virtanen was destined to start the season in the AHL, should management divert from the plan based on a few preseason games?

If Virtanen keeps it up, management might have no choice but bring him back to the NHL.