It’s official: The Edmonton Oilers have signed former Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen, found not guilty of sexual assault charges this past summer, to a professional tryout agreement (PTO). It marks the next hockey step for the 26-year-old from Langley after a tumultuous couple of years.
“You’ve gotta believe in the legal system, the jury found him not guilty, we’ll see where he’s at,” Oilers General Manager Ken Holland told VHN in Penticton, “and like you said, you give someone a second opportunity, he’s trying to his life back together”
The Oilers also extended a similar opportunity to veteran defenceman Jason Demers, the 34-year-old having last played in the NHL for the Arizona Coyotes two seasons ago. The right-shot D-man played just five games last season in the Russian KHL for Ak Bars Kazan.
As one would expect, the Oilers press release kept Virtanen’s bio simple:
Virtanen, 26, appeared in 36 games for the KHL’s Spartak Moscow last season, collecting nine goals and seven assists for 16 points along with 24 penalty minutes.
Selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft (sixth overall), the six-foot, 210-pound right-winger has played 317 games over six NHL seasons, recording 55 goals and 45 assists along with 219 penalty minutes.
“I met with Jake a couple of times in the summer when I was in Vernon and he was in Kelowna,” Holland added. “He’s a player who at one point in his life had a lot of potential. He was a top ten player and everyone in the league would have taken him in the top ten, he’s 25-years-old, he’s gone through a lot of adversity on and off the ice. It’s a pro try-out, obviously there’s nothing to lose and it’s an opportunity to see where he’s at.”
It’s an opportunity for Virtanen to put his recent past behind him and move on with his hockey life, a desire he expressed immediately after his verdict.
“I am glad the truth has come to light,” Virtanen said after the trial. “I am looking forward to resuming my career as an NHL player. For my whole life, I have dreamed about playing the sport I love, in the best league in the world. I want to thank my family, my friends, and my supporters, the people who stood behind me through these most difficult times.”
Virtanen’s North American hockey career was put on hold in 2021 shortly after assault accusations were made public. Virtanen had been placed on leave by the Vancouver Canucks that spring and had his contract bought out in July of that year. He had signed a two-year contract worth a total of $5.1-million in October of 2020.
There is no guarantee he’ll play for the Oilers. A PTO is just that, a try-out, one that begins next week.