Orange & Black Investigations: Jakub Voráček, Hockey Unicorn

It’s rare to find a player in the NHL who plays the game in a totally unique way. While you might see assertions about Connor McDavid being on another level (correct) or something of that nature, most players fall within the archetype of their position. Wingers are shooters, centers are playmakers and defensively responsible, and defenders are either offensive or defensive. It’s unusual to me that among those preconceived notions, one of them is especially uncommon: the playmaking, pass-first winger. Jakub Voráček is the source of constant complaints from fans because he doesn’t shoot as often as they’d like, but I think we fail to appreciate how one-of-a-kind the way he thinks the game is. Voráček is, in a phrase, a “hockey unicorn.” There has never been a winger quite like him, and it will be some time before another comes along.

Passing Before Shooting

Voráček’s career average CF/GP is 4.43, a higher mark than most would expect. For comparison, the decade’s assist leader and fellow Flyer Claude Giroux averaged 4.76/GP. The question then becomes this: what creates the perception that Jakub Voráček only passes amongst the casual fans of this team? The answer lies within his flair for passing and, more importantly, his success rate on dangerous passes. According to the tracked stats of Corey Sznajder, from 2016-2019 Voráček has ranked ~30th in dangerous passes per 60/point shot setups per 60. This puts him squarely in the conversation with Brad Marchand, Blake Wheeler (his most comparable contemporaries) and even Connor McDavid in this micro stat.

Voráček among all forwards, 2016-2019.

Any scouting report on Voráček has always considered him as a playmaker, with his shooting listed largely as an afterthought. This is a pretty fair characteristic given that his shotput-style release and relatively weak shot aren’t excellent goalscoring tools at the NHL level. Why exactly have I asserted that Voráček is completely unique? Put simply, there has never been a winger with his physical size and production that completely lacked a standout shooting tool for the NHL level. Over the past three years, Jake the Snake is 47th in points per game despite being in a multi-way tie for 137th place in goals scored. How can a winger who doesn’t even rank in the top 250 players in the NHL in shooting percentage over that span have that kind of point production?

Well, he makes plays like this. Voráček might retire as one of the great passers in NHL history. The Ginga Ninja ranks 32nd in assists by a RW despite only sitting at 70th in career points. Nobody ahead of him on the career assists list has a lower career high in goals. The next closest is Blake Wheeler with 28. It’s plain to see that Voráček is completely alone in the way he’s pioneered for the passing winger. Nobody has had this much NHL success in spite of a so-so shot (compared to other pros, I should say). It’s a credit to the brilliant hockey IQ that the Czech star possesses, something that I feel fans ought to appreciate more often.

Among the top 100 RWs in all-time point production, nobody even sniffs Voráček’s goals/assists ratio. The position has always been and continues to be dominated by shooters. While Flyers fans will always crave a goal-scorer, I think it’s time to appreciate the oddity that is Voráček’s career. Film clearly shows that he isn’t a fantastic skater anymore (just a solid one), his shot isn’t great, and his physicality and defense have never been spectacular. Yet despite all of the above, he manages to score because he has gifted hands and one of the most outstanding hockey minds to ever hit the league. Jakub Voráček is a unicorn. Rather than wishing he was a dragon or some other mythical creature, I’d suggest Flyers fans enjoy the spectacle in front of them.

Photo Credit – Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire

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