MONTREAL – While the Philadelphia Flyers struggle through a season to forget, at least right winger Jakub Voracek is doing something to remember.
The 23-year-old leads the Flyers in goal-scoring with 17 after only 41 games, one short of the career-high he set in 78 games last season.
“It would be much better if I had 10 less points and we were sitting in sixth or seventh place in the conference, but it is what it is this year,” Voracek said Monday as the 12th-place Flyers prepared to face the Montreal Canadiens.
“Of course, I feel better every year. You’re older and you feel stronger and more experienced. I think that was the case with me this year. I want to get better as a player and help the team win games.”
It has helped that he is playing on a line with star centre Claude Giroux, lately with veteran Simon Gagne on the left side. His production at least has helped the Flyers maintain optimism for the future.
Voracek joined the team along with a first round draft pick that became gifted centre Sean Couturier in a 2011 trade that sent Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets. That same summer, the Flyers sent Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings in a deal that landed young forwards Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn.
The six-foot-two 215-pound Voracek was drafted seventh overall by Columbus from the Halifax Mooseheads in 2007 and had seasons of 38, 50 and 46 points with the Blue Jackets before he was dealt to Philadelphia.
“So many players get traded in hockey,” he said. “It was quite a shock, but I was excited because the Flyers have one of the best organizations in the league. It’s been a great fit for me.”
The six-foot-two 215-pound Czech had 18 goals and 31 assists with the Flyers last season, then added 10 points in 11 playoff games.
A run of injuries, especially on defence, and spotty goaltending have been the main reasons for the Flyers’ fall after a 103-point season in 2011-12.
Some forwards have under-performed or battled injuries as well, including Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, but they feel good about the future with young players like Voracek, 20-year-old Couturier, 21-year-old Schenn, 24-year-old Simmonds and 25-year-old Giroux.
“There’s so much good young offensive talent in this room that the Flyers are in good shape for many years to come,” said Briere, 35. “The trades they made have put this organization in a really good spot.
“Unfortunately, this year it didn’t go our way. But I would think and hope the organization will be very patient with all the young guys they have here.”
The injuries at least have given the Flyers a look at young defencemen in their system, but the back end has been a problem all season with only Kimmo Timonen, Luke Schenn and Bruno Gervais playing all or most of the games.
“It would have been nice if we could have split up the injuries more,” added Briere. “It’s been incredible all the defencemen out of the lineup.
“Almost every defenceman from the minors has been up with us this year. But you can’t blame them. The rest of the team, even offensively, has not played well. It’s not one or two guys struggling. It’s hard to find one guy and say ‘he’s having an amazing season.’ “
Couturier had a promising season as a 19-year-old rookie with 27 points in 77 games in 2011-12, but the rangy centre has only three goals and 12 points and is minus-12 in 39 games this season.
Coach Peter Laviolette is not concerned with numbers.
“With young players, their role expands a bit,” he sad. “Sean’s a young player and we have a lot of confidence in him. It shouldn’t be deemed a bad season because he’s a minus.”
On another note, Laviolette didn’t have much to say about reports of a vote of confidence from general manager Paul Holmgren for next season.
“I’m not even sure what you guys are talking about,” Laviolette said.