Edmonton Oilers General Manager Ken Holland chose his words methodically during his press conference on Wednesday regarding the professional try-out offer he extended to ex-Canucks forward and Langley native Jake Virtanen.
Normally Holland is pretty loquacious, as exhibited when VHN gave him the opportunity one-on-one to answer questions regarding the topic on Monday in Penticton at the Young Stars Classic. He spoke at half-speed to the amassed media in Edmonton.
Virtanen was found not guilty of sexual assault in a Vancouver courtroom in July. After the initial accusations became public in 2021 and before the Vancouver Police Department officially pressed charges, Virtanen was placed on leave from the team that spring and had the final year of his contract bought out by the Canucks shortly thereafter.
VHN: Touch on giving Jake Virtanen a second chance. Is that ultimately what it comes down to?
KH: Yeah, it’s a PTO, it’s a try-out, his agent called me, Kevin Epp, late-July or early-August, somewhere, and I met with Jake a couple of times one-on-one, he was in Kelowna. He was a player who at one point in his life had a lot of potential. He was a top ten player and everybody in the league would have taken him in the top ten. He’s 25-years-old now, he’s gone through a lot of adversity on and off the ice, so it’s a pro try-out, obviously there’s nothing to lose, it’s an opportunity to see where’s he at.”
VHN: Does everyone deserve a second opportunity?
KH: He went through … it’s been obviously … you know, you’ve gotta believe in the legal system, he went in front of a jury they found him not guilty, so we’re going to see where he’s at. And obviously like I said, it gives someone an opportunity, he’s trying to get his life back together.”
In his press conference, Holland was careful to point out that ‘both sides’ went through a great deal of adversity.
“He’s here,” Holland stated. “He is skating and stuff. I spent two times with him for probably, let’s say 90 minutes. I’ve been with him three hours of his life. I think he’s a nice young guy. I think he feels terrible about what happened. He’s gone through a lot and I’m sure lots of people have gone through a lot. It’s not only him, there’s people from both sides that have gone through a lot. I felt that I would give him an opportunity on a tryout and then, over the next two weeks, decide if I want to take it further.
“I guess I’m trusting the legal system. In the decision to offer a pro tryout now, the legal system has, in my mind, guided me to offer him a pro tryout. Now over the next two or three weeks — I think we have 20 days until the season opens — we will evaluate him. I’ll evaluate him. I’ll talk to my coaches. If he’s not, from a hockey standpoint, good enough to us to want him offer him a contract, then obviously we’ll release him. If we think over the next two weeks that he’s somebody that can make us better, deeper, and he’s an NHL player — then I’m going to have to weigh what you’re talking about in much more depth. I guess this is one step along the way. The next step is the if we want to sign him to a contract. That’s twofold. One is from a hockey standpoint, one is going to be to weigh this.”
Virtanen played 317 games for the Canucks over six seasons after being drafted 6th-overall by the club in 2014.