Jake Virtanen’s rookie campaign hasn’t been easy.
The 19-year-old winger has had to watch from the sidelines due to injury and as a healthy scratch, he has been released to play at the World Junior Championship in order to get some playing time and when he has suited up for the Canucks, he isn’t playing more than third- or fourth-line minutes. And now Virtanen's rookie season could see him have his first run-in with the Department of Player Safety.
Virtanen was kicked out of Vancouver’s Tuesday evening tilt with San Jose when he levelled Sharks defenseman Roman Polak with a late, hard check early in the second period. The hit, which came on an unsuspecting Polak, saw Virtanen handed down a major for interference and a game misconduct. After being given the jolt from Virtanen, Polak remained on the ice but was eventually able to collect himself, skate off under his own power and head to the dressing room:
Polak would leave the contest and missed five minutes of game action before returning to the ice with 13 minutes remaining in the second period. Polak took 14 shifts after the hit, and completed the contest for the Sharks.
While the hit was undoubtedly late and came at a time when Polak shouldn’t have had to expect to be hit, Virtanen appears to make shoulder-to-shoulder contact first. It doesn’t look as though he picks the head of Polak with the hit, but it's tough to tell with the angles available.
The hits that have been ruled interference and resulted in suspension this season have all been far more violent than the one laid by Virtanen. Those three suspensions for interference include the two-game ban to Max Talbot, four-game suspension for Bobby Farnham and Jared Boll’s recent five-gamer for a late hit last week, but Virtanen has landed himself a meeting with the DOPS.
Virtanen losing an entire two periods of Tuesday’s game could serve as enough punishment, but it's likely at least one more game is tacked on seeing as the league wishes to speak with Virtanen. That Polak was able to return and complete the game seemingly without any lingering effects will help Virtanen, but it's worth noting the DOPS won't take the injury into account until determining the length of suspension.
Virtanen has scored seven goals and 13 points this season while averaging roughly 11:30 per game in ice time. He was the Canucks’ first-round pick, sixth overall, in 2014, and has no suspension history.
UPDATE:The Department of Player Safety announced Wednesday afternoon that Virtanen has been suspended for two games for his hit on Polak.
In the video accompanying the suspension announcement, Director of Player Safety Patrick Burke said the hit was a "late, forceful, blindside check."
"What elevates this hit to merit supplemental discipline is its extreme lateness and the predatory nature of the hit," Burke said. "Polak has no reason to anticipate being hit this long after moving the puck. This is not a case in which a player finishes a check, initiated while his opponent still has the puck."
The two-game ban will cost Virtanen $9,614.70, all of which will go to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.