Top Hitmen prospect fits in fine

SCOTT FISHER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:16 AM ET

'The Future' has arrived.

But only for a short time.

If Calgary Hitmen fans want to get a preview of their next franchise player, they'll have to head to training camp to get a look.

Jake Virtanen, the club's first-overall selection in May's WHL Bantam Draft, got through Friday's fitness testing unscathed.

But he might feel the effects for a few days.

"Oh, for sure," said Virtanen, who is too young to suit up for the Hitmen this season.

"It was pretty tiring. We did the beep test and the bench press. It was tough but I've been working out all summer.

"I did better today than I did in my workouts. I think I pushed myself harder."

Virtanen, who became just the second player chosen first overall by the Hitmen (Chris Nielsen, 1995), will hit the ice Saturday with the rest of the rookie hopefuls.

He said he's looking forward to lacing them up.

"I watched the vets out there for about 10 minutes," he said.

"They were just flying. I like the high-tempo game, so it looks fun."

The 5-foot-11, 180-lb. forward put up 70 goals and 119 points in 62 games with the bantam Hawks in 2010-11.

He's expected to play with the Fraser Valley Bruins major midget squad this season.

"It should be an older team," he said. "I think we'll be pretty strong."

While the rest of his soon-to-be midget teammates are going through the paces on the west coast, Virtanen will be doing his best to impress the Hitmen brass and prove he was worthy of the first-overall pick.

"I just want to take it shift by shift and not worry about anyone else," he said when asked how he'll handle all the eyes watching him over the next week or so.

"I just want to focus on my role -- putting the puck in the net and being a physical player."

He's got an incentive to play well, too.

"I talked to (head scout) Dan Bonar, and he said if I played good in rookie camp and training camp, I could play in some exhibition games in Edmonton," he said.

"That would be exciting.

"I'm going to work hard so I can make it through to Edmenton."

The Hitmen will play the Medicine Hat Tigers and Prince George Cougars at the Edmonton pre-season tournament Sept. 4-5.

There were a few familiar faces when Virtanen rolled into the Stampede City.

"Chase Clayton (the club's top pick in 2009) goes to my school in Abottsford and I played with his brother last season," Virtanen said.

"And I stay in touch with Greg Chase (last year's top pick) on Facebook and BBM."

"So I can talk to them if I need anything."

Virtanen was on the ice three times a week over the summer. He also hit the gym just as often.

But it was his commitment to becoming a more rounded player that may pay the biggest dividends down the line.

"I worked a lot on my defensive zone," he said. "And I tried to work on my penalty killing.

"People think I'm good offensively, but I have to make sure I'm equally good at both ends."

That has to be music to a coach's ears.


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