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Has Jakub Voracek been better this season than he’s been given credit for?

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Over the last few weeks, he’s perhaps been the most consistent Flyer.

Philadelphia Flyers v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

To start this article, I first present you with one of the more interesting Flyer related stats one can find on Natural Stat Trick. Currently, Jakub Voracek has scored 20 points at 5-on-5 in 38 games. Of those points, six are goals, eight are primary assists, and six are secondary assists. On the whole, if this were an 82 game season, Voracek would be on pace for 46 points at 5-on-5, which would mark a new career high. Taking into account all situations of play, Voracek is on pace for around 73 points, which would not mark a career high, but is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

He is the man who currently (all statistics are through Saturday’s game) sits second on the Flyers in points, and by that objective evidence, Jake Voracek has been excellent this season. Over the last four weeks, Voracek has scored 16 points over 16 games. He is scoring and providing primary assists (not just secondary helpers). On top of that, he is back to some level of play-driving consistency. Voracek is currently breaking even at 50.12% Corsi-for, as overall, the Flyers have actually emerged from a seemingly never-ending Corsi nightmare.

Unfortunately, due to consistent defensive woes and shaking goaltending, the Flyers haven’t been able to turn their uptick in possession into victories (though they have been playing better as of late), yet Voracek continues to be a bright spot in the midst of a saddening season.

His statistics are backed up by what can only be described as clutch performances from the 31-year-old Czech. Only a short month ago did Voracek school the Rangers in overtime after a great defensive read to intercept a pass intended for Mika Zibanejad. He then proceeded to waltz in on goal and dangle the Ranger goaltender into oblivion.

Defensively, Voracek has looked determined on both the forecheck and backcheck, as if he’s using all his determination trying to lift a weight off his shoulders. He certainly has, in the past and even present, been criticized for his seeming lack of commitment to defensive efforts. But, for the most part this season, or at minimum for the past three or four weeks, been showing his stripes in the Flyers’ own end.

On top of that, not that this is revolutionary news, Voracek has shown just how important a leader he is to this team. Just take a look at this snapshot from the last Flyers-Islanders game:

Say what you will about Voracek, but he has always been a good mentor and role model for younger players.

That leads into the next segment of this article. Jakub Voracek is undoubtedly a top-six winger, but how could he be even better? The answer is one you’ve likely heard before, but allow me to present it from a new perspective.

At his current pace, for an 82 game season, Voracek isn’t on pace to hit shot total numbers even close to his career highs, and certainly many a Flyer fan have begged Voracek to shoot more considering he does have a good shot. Now, this won’t be the first nor last article to argue for Voracek to shoot more, but in this case, the metrics which judge Voracek’s ability as a shooter have seemed to do him no justice.

It is increasingly likely that Voracek is a poorly rated as a shooter by shot-tracking statistics: he doesn’t fire the puck enough to grade better by shot quality measures. At 5-on-5, Voracek has 6 goals, but a 4.48 expected goal measure weighed against all his shots, and when shooting talent quality is taken into account, he still outperforms his 4.26 expected goals adjusted. This is all suffice to say that it’s entirely possible if Voracek shot more, that the evidence of his shooting talent would shine through the volume and he wouldn’t be rated by MoneyPuck as a 5.0% below average shooter as he currently is.

This perhaps rings truer for Voracek, the particular player, than others due to where he primarily shoots the puck from: right in the middle of the slot:

MoneyPuck

Now let’s compare Voracek to another player with a similar goal total at 5-on-5 and with a similar tendency to shoot from the slot in Ryan Nugent Hopkins:

MoneyPuck

Nugent-Hopkins has scored 6 goals at 5-on-5 from an expected 8.12 goals, and when adjusted for shooting talent, this expected number improves to 8.42 xG. MoneyPuck’s system then rates Nugent-Hopkins as a 3.6% above average shooter.

For two players who shoot from roughly the same spot on the ice the most, and have scored the same amount of goals at 5-on-5, why does Nugent-Hopkins get the edge over Voracek by this system?

Is it because Nugent-Hopkins has a naturally better shot than Voracek? That’s what the rating system and the metrics it’s based off would have you believe, but that conclusion doesn’t sit right. Better shooters score more goals, on principle, and while obviously there are many factors at play that make simply goal totals not exclusively indicative on a player’s shooting talent (such as deflections, odd bounces, and the goaltender’s positioning and reaction time) Voracek (0.23) and Nugent-Hopkins (0.28) rank similarly for goals-per-game over the course of their careers. Therefore, that argument doesn’t make sense from a statistical and from an eye-test perspective. While Nugent-Hopkins is a talented player, from what I have seen personally, he doesn’t strike me as a markedly better shooter than Voracek, considering one could classify both as “playmakers”.

Is it because Voracek has perhaps received worse puck-luck than Nugent-Hopkins? Voracek outperforming his expected goal total could indicate factors other than skill were involved in how that metric is being generated, yet outperforming would equate to good luck rather than bad luck as one’s scoring more than they should despite the quality and propensity of their shots to beat a goaltender.

No, the main difference is that Jake Voracek has shot the puck 49 times while Nugent-Hopkins has shot the puck 66 times at 5-on-5. This is the reason why Nugent-Hopkins is “underperforming” by expected goal measures: he’s getting more quality shots off because he simply shoots more, meaning (of course not accounting for the goaltender) that in theory he would have scored more goals. That is also why his shooting talent is ranked as better than Voracek’s, because it’s being ranked off of expected goals. Therefore, in a theoretical situation, if Voracek shot the puck as often as Nugent-Hopkins did, he would likely be ranked as an above-average shooter given what we have observed from the eye test on Voracek’s scoring ability.

Is all that evidence to suggest Voracek is an equal level shooter to a player like Nugent-Hopkins? Only yes in the theoretical sense, and can only be tested by Voracek, well, simply shooting the puck more. It is also reliant on eye test observations of Voracek’s shooting to be correct, which given the differing circumstances and oddities that can occur in a single game and that can occur to a player, may not be as pronounced as perceived.

Overall though, in the midst of a bleak 2020-21 season, Voracek has been a pleasant sight on the ice, and to think he could be even better, potentially, would be icing on the cake. In the end, it all depends upon the tendencies of Voracek when he’s on the ice, and if the coaching staff recognize the potential shooting talent Voracek has.

Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and MoneyPuck