Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Voracek, Practice Updates, Quick Hits

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VORACEK: EVOLUTION OF A PLAYER

Over the last month or so, there have been numerous stories written about how Jakub Voracek’s improved conditioning has played a major role in his dramatic success in the early going of the 2014-15 regular season. Voracek has repeatedly and patiently answered the same questions about what he did over the summer to report to training camp at 208 pounds.

There is no doubt that playing in the best condition of his career has helped Voracek take his game to the next level on a consistent basis. It’s been beneficial in maintaining a consistent level of stamina in games (no drop-off of energy in quick-turnaround shifts or in third periods). He’s always been an above-average skater, but playing a little lighter weight has helped even in that regard.

However, the conditioning aspect is just one part of the story. Voracek correctly pointed out yesterday that there have been many things along the way that have helped him go from a gifted but inconsistent talent to a player who has become one of the top forwards in the NHL. It has been the process of gaining experience, paying attention to detail and having the right influences on his game that has been the difference between Voracek in his early years and today.

Going back to the days when he left his native Kladno, Czech Republic to play for Halifax in the QMJHL, it was clear that Voracek had an unusual combination of size, speed and skill. Voracek’s junior coach, Cam Russell, said several months before the 2007 Draft that Voracek had all the tools to be as good as anyone in his Draft class. He could be a playmaker, a scorer and even a two-way player if he dedicated himself to maximizing his potential.

Much like a jigsaw puzzle, Voracek still had to put all pieces together. It wasn’t an overnight process. Early in his career in Columbus, then-coach Scott Arniel criticized Voracek’s reluctance to shoot the puck as well as attention to conditioning.

Arniel said of Voracek to the Columbus Dispatch, “The biggest thing that is holding him back is his conditioning. I think this guy can be an elite player in this league if he gets himself in shape.”

From the time of his first Flyers training camp under Peter Laviolette, the player was encouraged to focus on shooting the puck when possible. It just took some time to gain confidence and find what worked. Along the way, Voracek has had the benefit of some very valuable experiences:

1) The presence of Jaromir Jagr to guide and mentor him during Voracek’s first season in Philly.

2) The opportunity to find a comfort level as a member of the first power play unit. Success was not immediate when he was first put there, but Laviolette and Joe Mullen stuck with him til it clicked.

3) The chance to move up to the top line following Jagr’s departure and to play with an elite offensive talent in Giroux. Nowadays, it is an equal partnership between two top-notch players and each helps raise the other’s production.

Voracek got more serious about staying in shape once he came to the Flyers. Even so, he caught heat for his conditioning after the lockout in 2012. Voracek joked that he perhaps he’d enjoyed his mother’s home cooking a little too much while playing for HC Lev during the lockout. Now-former teammate Scott Hartnell, who also admittedly reported to the Flyers in less-than-ideal shape after the lockout, joked that Voracek and himself were candidates for “fat camp.”

Of course, those concerns disappeared quickly when Voracek went on to have a career season in the 48-game 2012-13 season, posting 22 goals, 46 points and scoring on 17.0 percent of his shots.

Last season, while the Flyers got off to a horrendous 1-7-0 and 4-10-1 start and scored just 22 goals over their first 15 games, much of the attention was focused on the fact that Claude Giroux had no goals over that span. Voracek did not fare much better, scoring just one goal and four points in the first 15 games of the season.

Something that gets easily forgotten: Voracek was not a healthy player entering last season. He injured his back in the preseason on a play where he slid into the goal post. He was still clearly at less that 100 percent in the early going of the season, even though he did not want to use injury as an excuse.

Once Giroux and Voracek got rolling, so did the Flyers. Over the remaining 67 games of the regular season, Voracek posted 22 goals, 36 assists and 58 points (0.865 points per game). During the Flyers first-round playoff series against the Rangers, Voracek was one of the few Flyers players who had success in skating the puck through New York’s tight checking and creating scoring chances.

Entering this season, Voracek had averaged 0.83 points per game over the previous two campaigns and had compiled 52 goals, 71 assists and 123 points over his last 145 regular season games (0.85 points per game) dating back to the stretch drive of the 2011-12 season. In other words, he was already a very good NHL forward on a pretty consistent basis. He just needed to give himself a little extra push to go from very good to excellent.

This season, with the greatly added emphasis on offseason conditioning that Berube and general manager Ron Hextall placed on the entire team, Voracek embraced the challenge. The results have spoken for themselves.

Even if Voracek’s torrid early season pace — which would break Mark Recchi’s single-season franchise record for points — is unsustainable, there is no reason why he cannot flirt with a 95-to-100 point season if he and Giroux stay healthy. The recent addition of Wayne Simmonds to the top line could pay further dividends as Simmonds adapts to playing his off-wing at even strength but it should also be said that Michael Raffl showed excellent chemistry as the third member of the top line prior to Raffl’s recent injury.

************ QUICK HITS: NOVEMBER 12

* One year ago today, the Flyers played virtually 60 flawless minutes of hockey in dominating an Ottawa Senators team that had come into the game riding a three-game winning streak and had been undefeated in regulation for the month of November. Philly skated off with a 5-0 road win that saw Steve Mason record a 24-save shutout (his first in a Flyers uniform). Jakub Voracek notched two goals, while Matt Read, Vincent Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn scored one apiece.

* On Nov. 12, 1978, Bernie Parent recorded the 54th of 56 shutouts in his Flyers career. This one ranked among the easiest, as the Flyers outshot the Vancouver Canucks by a whopping 36-14 margin and did not allow more than five shots in any period in a 4-0 road win. However, Parent had to make four saves during a 5-on-3 penalty kill in the second period with the Flyers leading 2-0. Goals by Don Saleski, Drew Callender, Bill Barber (power play) and Paul Evans provided Parent with plenty of offensive support. Losing goaltender Gary Bromley made 32 saves for the Canucks.

* On Nov. 12, 1988, Tim Kerr notched the 17th of 20 hat tricks (combined regular season and playoffs) in his Flyers career. Kerr, who was dealing with a serious shoulder injury, singlehandedly kept the Flyers close in a home game where Detroit’s Steve Yzerman recorded a hat trick of his own in staking Detroit to 5-2 lead within the first 23:46 of the game. Kerr’s third goal narrowed the gap to 5-3 and a Scott Mellanby goal brought Philly back within a goal with 15:39 left in the game. The Flyers pushed hard in the third period but hit the post three times and the comeback bid fell one goal short in a 5-4 loss. Dave Poulin, Mark Howe and Pelle Eklund chipped in two assists apiece, while Ron Hextall stopped 27 of 32 shots.

* On Nov. 12, 1998, the Flyers traded popular third line left winger Shjon Podein to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for feisty winger Keith Jones.

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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