McKeen’s WHL scout, Randy Gorman had the opportunity to chat with 2014 draft-eligible Jake Virtanen about nutrition, goals and draft year attention from scouts.
McKeen’s: Where did you play your minor hockey?
Virtanen: I started my minor hockey off in Langley, BC until the pee-wee years, where upon I moved to Abbotsford and played for the Abbotsford Hawks right through midget.
McKeen’s: What was the biggest adjustment you had to make coming from minor hockey to major junior?
Virtanen: Well obviously it’s a big step, I would have to say the size and strength of the players. They have man-like strength, so you to be on par and ready for that. These are some of the best junior players in Canada.
McKeen’s: How does it feel to be considered a top prospect for this year’s draft?
Virtanen: Yes, it’s pretty cool. It’s an honour to be touted pretty high. I have to go out and prove to others and myself that I can compete and perform at this level. Doing the little things, game in and game out.
McKeen’s: Does it bother you that scouts are analyzing your game every night you’re on the ice?
Virtanen: I know you guys are there, honestly, there can be anyone watching whether it’s a game or even a practice. You have to give 110% every time and show them what you can do. I think it’s an honour to be scouted by NHL teams.
McKeen’s: Was there any set goals that you wanted to achieve this season in your draft year?
Virtanen: I haven’t really set any personal goals, but I think as a team I would like to see us go as far as possible in the playoffs, as we have a pretty good mix of guys here. We have an experienced team and I would like to get all the way to the Memorial Cup this season in London, Ontario.
McKeen’s: What’s it like playing in a bigger market and a major city like Calgary for the Hitmen?
Virtanen: The Calgary Hitmen are a great organization. You get treated well here, ever since I was drafted and arrived here, its been nothing but first class. Especially playing in the Saddledome, where you get to play in an NHL rink, sharing it with the Calgary Flames.
McKeen’s: Many scouts have noted your offensive skills, how important is learning the defensive aspect of the game in order to progress to the pro level?
Virtanen: Absolutely essential, it’s a big step, defensive zone play comes first, you have to be good in the d-zone to be good in the offensive zone.
McKeen’s: You mentioned before the strength of the players. How much importance do you put in off-season core strength training in order to get stronger and faster?
Virtanen: This is a very important element in your fitness regimen. The players throughout the WHL and CHL for that matter are like men. During the summer I’m working out 5 days a week, Monday to Friday, with Saturday- Sunday off so I can hang out with friends and family. Nutrition is one of biggest things as well that goes along with training, and that mean’s eating healthy.
McKeen’s: Who has had the greatest impact on your hockey career to date?
Virtanen: My parents and brother have always been there for me. I can’t leave out my grandparents, they were there when I first started skating. They all contributed by taking me to practice, games, and tournaments and I can’t thank them all enough.
McKeen’s: Was there any particular player in the NHL that you watched growing up that you wanted to pattern your game after or admired?
Virtanen: I thought Rick Nash was a great player that I admired and wanted to play like. He is a leader on and off the ice, and is one of the best power forwards in the NHL.
McKeen’s: What’s the strongest part of your game, and what are the things you want to work on?
Virtanen: I think my skating is definitely my strength, also my shot and physical play all around. I’m a pretty sturdy guy. I think the things I need to work on are transition foot speed in regards to starting and stopping, I want to be able to get a quicker jump. Also, defensive zone play, I think there’s always room to improve on every area if the game.
McKeen’s: What do you like to do away from hockey in the off season, is there any other sports you play?
Virtanen: I don’t really play any other sports competitively. All my buddies that play in the WHL from my home town of Abbotsford will get together to play scratch football and basketball for fun.