The Hockey Writers
With Kristian Huselius out of the Blue Jackets line-up with a concussion suffered Saturday in Nashville, rookie winger Jake “don’t call me Jakub” Voracek has been elevated to the top line. He’ll balance out the right side, with Manny Malhotra centering and Captain Rick Nash on the left. He’s had the normal and expected ups and downs of players in their first season. Playing pretty hot in the first month of the campaign, he cooled off considerably before re-igniting the fire within himself and chasing after the Blue Jackets first playoff appearance.
We recently talked about the jump in his step that has been seen on the ice. “The coach was talking and said I should protect the puck a little better and that’s what I tried to do. Be stronger down low and protect it better.”, he said. He took these words to heart and it showed in Tuesdays’ game against Nashville. He definately protected the puck, fending off many Predator players that tried to get their stick on it. His level of play continued throughout the weekend, culminating with him being named to the top line for Wednesdays match-up versus the Blackhawks in Chicago. It remains to be seen if he stays on the top line until Huselius returns; coach Ken Hitchcock is anything but predictable.
Posting 9 goals and 28 assists for 37 points (77 games), he’s just 2 points away from tying Rick Nash’s rookie season record of 39 points. When asked about possibly beating the captains’ rookie record, he admitted he hadn’t really thought about it. “I’ll be totally honest. Just 10 days ago they (teammates) said ‘just four more points and you’ll beat Rick Nash’. I was like ‘what?’ I didn’t know. It’ll be cool, but right now it’s not a focus to beat Rick Nash in the points. I’m focused to make the playoffs and be prepared for it.”, Jake said. Hitch has shown remarkable trust in the rookies on the team this year, and Jake is no exception. He’s worked hard to get to this point and wants, as do the rest of the team, to make it into the playoffs.
He started the season on a line with C Derrick Brassard and LW Jason Chimera; it was a productive line for the Blue Jackets affectionately known as “The Goat Line”. But Brassard went out for the rest of the regular season in December after suffering a shoulder injury in Dallas. GM Scott Howson said recently that now that the medical staff has cleared him to practice, he wouldn’t play until May 1st. That happens to coincide with roughly the beginning of the second round of the playoffs. Might we see young Brassard back in the line-up, playing next to Voracek? Jake hopes so; “I was pretty surprised because when he got his surgery, I thought he’d be gone for, like 6 months. He’s working hard on his shoulder to get it back. I think he’s in great shape and the shoulder muscle will get stronger and he’ll be ready to play. It’s going to be cool and he’s sure going to have fun.”
Jake Voracek is just one of the rookies who have helped get this Blue Jackets team within sniffing distance of the playoffs. We shouldn’t forget the contributions of 2008 1st round draft pick Nikita Filatov (hat trick, 8 GP), Derek Dorsett (146 PIM, 49 GP) and of course goaltender Steve Mason (10 SO, 58 GP). The ’08/’09 rookie crop in Columbus has planted roots and are helping to give this team an identity. The mix of cagey veterans and wide-eyed rookies seems to be working. The experienced leadership on this team should help the rookies get through any first time post-season jitters they might have.
With three games to go, the time to clinch a playoff berth is coming down to the wire. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the whole season so why should the last week be any different?
Jake, it’s your turn to “Carry The Flag”. Show us what you’re made of.