Friday, August 20, 2010

Time to step up: Jake Voracek

  • Right wing
  • 21 years old, 3rd year in National Hockey League
  • $1,270,833 cap hit 
  • 2.1% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 81 games played, 16 goals, 34 assists, 50 points, -7, 26 penalty minutes, 15:37 avg. time on ice
Before Puck Daddy posted Lee Auer's fine CBJ "Mount Puckmore" article, there was some discussion on Twitter about who should be looked at as the four faces of the franchise.  Perhaps the most intriguing idea was to put Jake Voracek in the mix.  Sure, he has only played two seasons in the NHL, the argument went, but Voracek is perhaps the one young member of the Columbus Blue Jackets who is on a straight line progression to NHL super-stardom.  Steve Mason tumbled in year two, Derick Brassard has had his issues, John Moore isn't at the NHL level yet, no one really knows on Ryan Johansen yet, but Voracek...he's a climber.  

Think about it: Voracek hit 50 points this season.  In Rick Nash's 2nd season, he had 57.  In Marian Hossa's 2nd full season, he had 56.  In Patrick Marleau's 2nd season, he had 45.  In Corey Perry's 2nd season, he had 44.  In Martin St. Louis' 2nd full season, he had 40.  If you're getting my point, you're seeing that Jake Voracek is right in the mix of some pretty awesome NHL talent at similar points in their careers. 

If Rick Nash is the "present" of this franchise, Jake Voracek is the "immediate future."  He's young, mature well beyond his years (something a certain Russian should look to emulate), works his tail off and survived Ken Hitchcock to the point that he has played on the top line with Rick Nash and Antoine Vermette on a fairly consistent basis, splitting time with Kristian Huselius.  

He's got perhaps the best hockey hair in the NHL, modeled after his hero and fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr (both are from Kladno) - alongside whom Voracek played in the World Championships this summer.  Jake might admire Jagr, but Ken Hitchcock says he plays more like Marian Hossa, another comparison that I'm perfectly OK with.  

Point is, Jake Voracek is primed and ready to take that next step to NHL stardom.  Will he take it?  

Let me suggest a place to consider, and it's a place where most of the Blue Jackets could start: Shoot the freaking puck.  I had an opportunity to visit with someone who knows the team a lot better than I, and I asked them what we should look for as a surprise this season.  The answer (and I'm paraphrasing), "If Voracek shoots the puck, we're going to win a LOT of games."  This somewhat surprised me, as Voracek was fifth on the team in shots with 154.  But ours has not been an offense-happy team: Only two Blue Jackets, Rick Nash (254) and R.J. Umberger (221), had more than 200.  By comparison, the shot-happy Washington Capitals had five players with more than 200 shots (Alexander Ovechkin had 368 alone!) and the slightly more staid Pittsburgh Penguins had three players with more than 200 (but 8 with more shots than Voracek).  

In the same vein as Antoine Vermette, I genuinely am optimistic that the Bob Boughner/Scott Arniel offensive system is going to yield incredible benefits for Jake Voracek.  Like all Hitchcock forwards, Voracek was asked to defend at least as hard as he attacked.  Arniel has been preaching the idea of moving the puck into the opposing zone and forcing the other team to play defense, and Boughner has won junior championships using that philosophy.  

Lastly, don't forget that this the final year of Voracek's current contract.  Scott Howson isn't forgetting it, and he's holding the long-term financial line specifically to re-sign Voracek and Steve Mason.  Voracek simply has to continue his current trajectory, and he's going to be one very well-compensated young man.  

Jakub Voracek is the embodiment of promise right now: His potential is being fulfilled right before our eyes.  This has the potential to be a magical season for him, and the NHL will sit up and take notice.

Enjoy the ride.

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