When the Philadelphia Flyers and restricted free agent right wing Jakub Voracek agreed to terms on a four-year, $17 million contract, the wheels were set in motion for the young winger to reach his ultimate potential.
"We are happy to have Jake under contract and look forward to him being a big part of our future," said GM Paul Holmgren Thursday in the club's official press release.
The move seemed long overdue -- almost certainly delayed because of the wait to see if the Nashville Predators could match the gargantuan $110 million offer sheet extended to defenseman Shea Weber. There was even speculation regarding whether Voracek might be part of a package that would have been sent to the Preds in return for not matching the Flyers' offer sheet.
The entire scenario is now a moot point, as Weber is tucked away safely in Music City after the Predators decided they could take on the heavily front-loaded pact.
Voracek's progression has been slow and steady. He posted 39 goals and 134 points in 241 contests with Columbus -- three years in which he amassed very similar statistics -- and some questioned whether he would ever take the next step and blossom given his surroundings.
The 6' 2", 214-pounder -- who was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in June of 2011 as part of the Jeff Carter trade -- was productive in his first year with the Flyers, especially down the stretch and into the playoffs last spring. He finished up the regular season with 18 goals -- a career best -- and 49 points in 78 games, then went on to record two goals and 10 points in 11 postseason contests.
Blessed with an elite skill-set, Voracek is an adept puck handler and passer, and spent most of the first half of the campaign dishing off some pretty nice feeds to teammates. Although he looked pass first in most situations, he did score some pretty important goals during the season. He tallied the game-winning goals for Philadelphia in both the regular season opener (a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins) and playoff opener (a 4-3 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins).
The Czech-native -- who turns 23 years old next month -- showed glimpses of what he can bring to the table while playing on the top lines, when he scored seven goals in a 13-game stretch late in the season.
As a matter of fact, the ascendency in Voracek's game began on March 6th in a home tilt against the Detroit Red Wings. Shortly after scoring a first period goal, the winger held the puck in at the left wing point. Voracek took a brief glance to locate the nearest Red Wing skater, who just so happened to be hard-hitting defenseman Niklas Kronwall. The rear guard appeared to be peeling off and as Voracek put his head down to gather the puck, Kronwall instead stepped up and drilled the Flyer with a shoulder check to the head, knocking Voracek briefly unconscious and out of the contest.
After sitting out three games, he returned to post a goal and two points in a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils just seven days later. The toughness was noted by teammates and head coach Peter Laviolette.
Voracek notched two goals and four points against the Penguins as the arch rivals met three times down the stretch, then torched Pittsburgh for two goals and seven points in six playoff tilts in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.
Moving forward, it looks as though Voracek will be the answer to the question as to which player will replace a legend.
As has been indicated here for some time (and confirmed by Holmgren in his post-Weber situation press conference Wednesday), Voracek could become an even more integral part of the Philly offensive attack in the upcoming campaign. With his Czech counterpart and boyhood hero Jaromir Jagr having departed for the warmer climate of Dallas, there is a vacancy on the top line on the right of Claude Giroux.
In addition to the attempt at landing Weber for the team's blue line, Holmgren also has tried to bring in two top wingers this summer -- Rick Nash, who was sent to the New York Rangers Tuesday, and Cherry Hill-native Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks. Both would likely increase Giroux's productivity and spark the Philadelphia offense, but in either scenario, would have cost the Flyers either Sean Couturier or Brayden Schenn in a trade.
Voracek will take on an even larger role with Philadelphia in 2012-13.
Barring any future moves, Voracek will be given a long look at filling Jagr's spot as the number one right wing. The Flyer gives Holmgren another luxury in retaining his other young forwards instead of having to deal them away for another winger.
The seventh-overall selection in the 2007 entry draft's game is actually geared towards that of Jagr's, as he uses his body to shield the puck as opponent's bodies bounce off of him in their failed attempts to take possession of the puck away from him. But he was also much better in heading to the net when promoted to the top two lines late in the year,
With the prospect of left winger Scott Hartnell crashing the net while Giroux dashes and dazzles, there is the potential that Voracek could become the type of offensive force that has been envisioned by hockey experts since his year of draft eligibility.
Voracek came into the NHL with great promise and potential, and his new $4.25 million annual salary is largely based upon what he may possibly attain. While it remains to be seen if he has the ability to become a top-line finisher, he will definitely get his chance to take that important next step this fall.
Bet on a breakout year for number 93.
One More RFA To Go
After signing forwards Tom Sestito and Mike Testwuide earlier in the month, Harry Zolnierczyk to a one-year, $600,000 two-way contract earlier in the week and Voracek Wednesday, only one more RFA remains for Holmgren to re-sign.
22-year-old defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon, who played well for much of the 45 games in which he appeared in his first NHL season, is the last remaining unsigned RFA. The hard-hitting St. Hyacinthe, Quebec-native racked up four goals, seven points, and 52 PIMs in 45 games. He was sent back to the AHL's Adirondack Phantoms several times, depending on the tricky injury situations the Flyers endured on their blue line last year. He also suffered a concussion late in the campaign and missed 10 playoff contests.
With Philly having missed out on adding both Ryan Suter and Weber and losing Matt Carle as an UFA to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bourdon will compete with Bruno Gervais, Andreas Lilja, and Erik Gustafsson for the sixth and seventh slots on the defense corps for the upcoming season.