Jake Voracek is the most underrated player on the Philadelphia Flyers.
Actually, let me re-write that sentence.
Jake Voracek is one of the most underrated players in the entire National Hockey League. It’s a distinction that he has held for quite some time now, and it’s about time that Flyers fans start to realize that the $8.25 million cap hit they like to complain about is entirely worth it.
Jake currently has eight points (two goals, six assists) through the first six games of the season. He has the most assists on the team so far and is tied at the top of the leaderboard with Claude Giroux for points. It’s not a surprise to see Jake leading the team this early in the season, it’s something he does every single year. While some players struggle to get their footing early on, like Travis Konecny who has yet to score a goal despite consistently creating high-quality chances, Voracek seems to always start the season off hot. In the beginning of the year, when lines are constantly changing and it’s common to see a lot of high-scoring games and shutouts all across the league, teams rely on veterans like Voracek to ignite the scoring-fire.
The thing is, Voracek isn’t flashy. He’s not going to make you ooh and ahh over his fancy footwork like Shayne Gostisbehere does. You won’t be mind-blown by his puck handling skills like you are with Claude Giroux. He doesn’t eat ice time for breakfast like the machine that calls himself Ivan Provorov. That leads to him receiving little respect for his play, both locally and nationally.
But Jake Voracek knows how to do his job, and he does it at an elite level. What he does best is something the Flyers as a whole seem to lack: He possesses the puck. Give it to him, especially in the offensive zone, and even if it looks like there’s no room to move he’ll find a way to create space and generate an offensive attack.
In the past two years, Jake has been in the 97th percentile in zone entry possession and in the 94th percentile in zone exit possession. This statistic, while seemingly irrelevant on the surface, means that he is one of the most successful players in the entire league at controlling how and when the puck leaves his defensive zone and enters the offensive zone. It’s difficult for his opponents to knock him off, which allows him to execute the plays he wants. And when teams are able to control the puck, they are able to dictate the pace of the game.
In addition to puck possession, Voracek is also one of the most underrated passers in the game. His 65 assists last season were fourth best in the league and he was second on the Flyers only to Claude Giroux, who undeniably had a dominant season of his own. Where Voracek’s elite passing ability shines most is on the power play, which is where he racked up 30 of his assists. He absolutely benefitted from having prolific goal-scorers around him, especially Couturier and Giroux on the first line and the top power play unit. But his work on the puck was what set his teammates up for success, and he was rewarded for that with new career-highs in both assists and points.
While the Flyers’ line combinations never seemed to stabilize last season, Jake’s eventual presence on the second line allowed Dave Hakstol and company to push the boundaries and give younger players the opportunity to prove themselves as legitimate top-six players. In January, Voracek was moved to the second line with 2017 second-overall pick Nolan Patrick, and no doubt played a crucial role in the budding superstar’s development. Patrick started off the season very slow, likely a result of his off-season surgery and his early-season concussion. In that time, the top line of Giroux, Couturier and Voracek was explosive, dynamic, and practically unstoppable. But the rest of the forward corps just couldn’t figure out how to produce. Switching Voracek with Travis Konecny not only allowed Konecny’s production to explode, but also gave Patrick a stable, experienced winger to balance his game and gave life to the Flyers’ scoring depth. While Patrick’s emergence in January and February was likely influenced by finally recovering from his injuries, the fact that he began to break out after Voracek joined him is no mere coincidence.
Patrick isn’t the only rookie whose development Voracek influenced. After being called up in late February, Oskar Lindblom spent a decent amount of time on Patrick’s other wing and the Flyers relied heavily on Voracek’s presence to ensure that the fresh-faced duo didn’t stray far from the tracks. Starting on February 20th, Lindblom’s NHL debut, the trio helped each other to eight even strength goals. Voracek and Patrick added assists on two additional even strength goals scored by defensemen and combined for multiple power play goals in that time.
None of this is to say that Voracek is without his faults. Every player can be better, even the best of the best. It would absolutely be nice to see him shoot more often and more successfully, both at even strength and while with the man advantage. He has the talent to be a 30+ goal scorer, though his career-high is only 23. But all of this does prove why Voracek is an irreplaceable member of this team.
As long as other teams keep forgetting him he will continue to silently putting up 80+ point seasons. So the rest of the league can just keep overlooking Jake Voracek.