One of the NHL’s up-and-coming – if a little off-the-radar – players and personalities is Columbus right winger Jakub Voracek. The 20-year-old Czech was the seventh pick of the 2007 draft, but if the teams picking before Columbus had a do-over, he likely would have gone No. 2 or 3.
Jake, as he’s known, came to North America as a 17-year-old to play for Halifax of the Quebec League and was a star immediately. He was the 2007 QMJHL offensive rookie of the year and in two seasons with the Mooseheads put up 56 goals and 187 points in 112 games. Last season, as an NHL rookie, the outgoing youngster posted respectable numbers: nine goals, 38 points and a plus-11 rating.
But this year, he’s really coming into his own, on the ice and off.
“He gets a lot of ice time and he’s a guy that with the strong summer program it’s made him a lot stronger,” said Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock of Voracek’s improved play this season. “And he’s got confidence; this is the second go through in the NHL, so he’s not overwhelmed by everything going on.”
The summer program Hitchcock talked of involved a few Blue Jackets in California, a place – and lifestyle – Voracek took to immediately.
“I went out there to see how he was doing and he said he’d come by and see me for a visit,” Hitchcock recalled. “We had dinner together and I didn’t even recognize him, his hair was so long. He was definitely enjoying the California lifestyle.”
Voracek’s hair has taken on a life of its own. It’s like a good Canadian hockey mullet, but Czeched-out Jaromir Jagr-style, which is why it’s being called the ‘Kladno Cut,’ the city Voracek and Jagr both hail from. (See Aaron Portzline’s blog for more on the hair and Voracek’s musical tastes.)
But the kid is about more than his hair and his music. Hitchcock praised his character, too.
“He is a free spirit,” the coach said. “He is a guy who absolutely loves life. He’s one of these guys who, if he’s down, it’s for about a minute and then he’s back up again.
“He just absolutely loves to come to the rink, loves to play hockey and he never has a bad day, and it’s very contagious with your hockey club. And he’s a good player, too.”
That last point is proving to be more apt with each passing game. Voracek is by no means a prolific sniper yet (he has five goals and 12 points through 16 games), but he’s the team’s second-leading scorer and is defensively responsible enough (plus-6) that Hitchcock plans for him to become a penalty-killer in the next year or so. And Voracek is gaining confidence offensively.
“I think the big thing is he’s more consistently competitive,” Hitchcock said. “He’s not overwhelmed by the level of play out there. He played last year as a 19-yerar-old on a regular basis and this year he’s only 20, but he carries himself like a veteran.”
For now Voracek is a second-liner in Columbus, but his coach doesn’t think that will last.
“I think he has a chance to be a No. 1 right winger in the league,” Hitchcock said. “Our biggest challenge is getting him to shoot more, because he always wants to make plays. If he’s able to score on a more regular basis, he really should come out as a No. 1 right winger in the league.”
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