Monday, February 25, 2013

Voracek named NHL's First Star; JVR returns

Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek has been honored as the NHL's First Star for the week ending February 24.

Voracek earned top honors thanks to a career-best scoring run last week, leading all players in the league with 11 points (4G, 7A) in four games. The 23-year-old Czech scored at least one point in every contest, totaling a career-high four assists in a 7-0 rout of the New York Islanders in Uniondale one week ago, then registering his first career hat trick in a 6-5 win at Pittsburgh two days later.

After adding a goal in a loss to Florida last Thursday and then three more helpers in a 5-3 win over Winnipeg this past Saturday, Voracek moved into the top 10 in overall scoring with 22 points (7G, 15A) in 20 games this season.

Voracek has recorded at least one point in 10 of Philadelphia's 13 games so far in February, notching six goals and 13 assists in all heading into Monday's home game with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"If we can get back to the .500 mark, it will be a good start. We have a chance to turn it around starting today," said Voracek. "I don't want to sound too cocky, I feel basically the same as before, and to be honest with you I am shooting the puck much better now than I was at the start of this season and last year."

After a slow start to the season, he has begun to justify the faith shown by the organization thanks to a $17 million, four-year deal served up in late July. Now that Scott Hartnell has returned to fill out what has been a shaky top line through the first third of the schedule, it's up to Voracek to continue that pace at a more consistent rate going forward.

"We're working really hard. We have a lot of energy going," Voracek said on the keys to success for the club's top line. "We have a good cycle going, and when you feel comfortable with each other, you start to get more chances and when you play with guys like 'G' and 'Hartsy' all the time, it makes things a lot easier."

And not that it's anything really special anymore, but once the puck drops, it will be James van Riemsdyk's first game back in Philadelphia since the offseason trade with Toronto that netted defenseman Luke Schenn.

JVR's mixed bag here in Orange and Black can be traced just as much to the Flyers organization's missteps in expectation and handling as his bad luck with injuries and lack of assertiveness with his size.

Last June, Paul Holmgren had this to say about the transaction: "I think I’ve told you enough about how strongly I feel about James becoming a good player, and I believe he will become a very good player in our league. Unfortunately for us, I think it’s going to be for Toronto now. The guy we got coming back is going to fill needs on our team and is going to be a good young player on our team. So I think it’s a win-win."

Funny thing to say for a man who selected the New Jersey native second overall in 2007, complained about his development at offensive-oriented UNH, gave him a minimum of AHL experience once he bolted college, then slotted him in as one of a group of young turks who would lead the franchise to continued success. And then praised his trade value on the way out.

Though the Maple Leafs have the same issues as Philadelphia -- how to survive year after year in a large market where anything less than a Stanley Cup berth is a failure -- van Riemsdyk in Toronto, with 11 goals and 15 points in 19 games this season, is closer to becoming there what he should have been here.

The Leafs are a team trying to find a steady upward path, though, and unlike the Flyers it's a different kind of pressure to be restored to the elite than to maintain that status. In some ways it can be more crushing, but in JVR's case, there's more trust to be had in a greater role: "I've been used more here in different situations, more opportunities, and I've been able to capitalize on that, he said.

"I had great memories about playing in Philadelphia. Nothing bad to say about the time I had here," van Riemsdyk said earlier on Monday, and why not? The fan base by and large treated him well, in arena and online. This is where he launched an NHL career. It's where he enjoyed his first, and perhaps only, taste of a deep playoff run and Stanley Cup hockey.

"I don't think I can have any regrets because I know every time I laced up my skates I gave everything I had. It was just one of those things where I know every time I had an opportunity to produce, I did produce. That's all I can control as a player."

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