Better playmaking, not more shots, root cause of Jakub Voracek’s breakout

Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)

From the instant Jakub Voracek put on a Philadelphia uniform, his skill set was obvious to coaches and fans alike. His slick passing, world-class vision and powerful skating ability helped make Voracek the seventh overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, and the centerpiece of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ trade package for Jeff Carter.

But one supposed flaw frustrated the vocal Flyers’ faithful – an apparent hesitation on the part of Voracek to shoot the puck.

So with Voracek in the process of his long awaited breakout season, it has been marked by a newfound flood of shots coming from the stick of the 23-year old forward, right?

Not quite.

Instead of changing his game to placate his critics, Voracek has elevated his play by nurturing his world-class playmaking skills, while simultaneously showcasing more efficient shooting.

In 2011-12, Voracek took a total of 190 shots in 78 games (2.43 shots per game) and scored 18 goals, a career high. This season, Voracek has scored eight goals in 21 games, a 31-goal pace over an 82-game season. However, the additional goals have not been the result of a dramatic increase in shot volume. So far this season, Voracek has averaged 2.66 shots per game (218 shots over a full season), a slight increase, but not enough to fully explain his recent surge.

Voracek’s shooting percentage has risen to a career high 13.5% so far this season, a significant jump for a career 9.4% shooter. While a 13.5% shooting percentage is not ridiculously high (teammate Daniel Briere has a career shooting percentage of 14.6%), Voracek’s current rate could potentially regress back to his career average, as it is too early to tell whether this recent improvement in shot quality is only temporary.

Still, even if such a regression occurs, Voracek’s overall statistics should remain strong. Even though he is not taking significantly more shots this season while on the ice, his teammates are reaping the benefits of Voracek’s playmaking skills reaching new heights.

Last season, while Voracek was on the ice, the Flyers generated 61.38 shot attempts per 60 minutes of even strength ice time. This year, that number has climbed to 67.05 shot attempts per 60 minutes, implying that Voracek is helping to create additional shots for his teammates on a nightly basis. Also, the number of shot attempts/60 allowed by the Flyers while Voracek is on the ice has dropped by over three this season.

Essentially, the Flyers are both shooting more and allowing fewer shots with Voracek on the ice at even strength this season compared to last.

More shots almost always equals more goals in both the short term and the long term, and Voracek’s assist numbers have risen accordingly. After chipping in with 31 assists in 78 games last season, Voracek is on pace for over 62 assists over an 82 game season, a pace that would have placed him third in the NHL in assists last season, behind only Henrik Sedin and teammate Claude Giroux.

For a player such as Voracek, who always boasted world class skills but never a true sniper’s mentality, developing the playmaker side to his side seems natural. Rather than adjust his game to fit an uncomfortable role, Voracek has simply refined his preexisting skills to become a true top line player in the NHL.

So long as his production holds steady, the Philadelphia Flyers certainly will not be complaining about his methods, only reveling in the results.

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