This ascension past Sidney Crosby, Tyler Seguin and all of the best scorers in hockey has made Philadelphia Flyers right-wing Jakub Voracek one of the most surprising stories of the first half of the season.
On pace for 95 points in his sixth year in the league, Voracek has surprised even himself with this kind of production.
"I would be lying if I said I knew I was going to be leading the points by January," said Voracek, who prefers to be called Jake. "I've really worked hard for it. But it doesn't mean that I was on top for 45 games and now I just let up. I've just got to keep working hard and try to get better."
It's still not clear how much better Voracek can get. He set a career high in points last season with 62 and has 56 in 48 games so far this year, on 17 goals and 39 assists.
Some of that is thanks to fellow all-star Claude Giroux, his linemate for the past two-plus seasons. Giroux is tied for third in the league in scoring.
"G's a smart player and he makes those passes just at the right time and with Jake's speed and the way he brings pucks to the net — and he can also pass the puck — they're both good at everything," said Flyers forward Vincent Lecavalier, who helped then-Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis win the Art Ross in 2004. "They're exceptional, like Jake bringing the puck to the net, and G his vision. I think it just works well together."
Voracek and Giroux have excelled and produced even with a rotating cast of characters on left wing: Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Michael Raffl and Wayne Simmonds. A lack of secondary scoring down the lineup, along with defensive miscues, has the Flyers well out of the playoff race.
But that's not Voracek's fault. The former Blue Jackets winger who was part of the deal that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus is enjoying his best season by far.
"I think it's more experience," Voracek said. "I'm more patient with the puck in the tight situations and on the power play. Every year I feel like when you gain that experience, when you play those games, you find different solutions sometimes for the situations on the ice. It's what it is: experience, work ethic, good teammates, good linemates. That's all it takes."
Voracek said he didn't prepare any differently over the summer. But coach Craig Berube has noticed the maturation of a skilled, offensive playmaker.
"He's putting the work in now and he's simplified his game," Berube said. "He's shooting pucks, getting to the net, things like that. A guy with that skill, and he does the right things all the time, he's going to produce."
But no one expected the Kladno, Czech Republic, native to produce quite like this. His previous high-scoring experience came with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, when he put up 186 points in 112 games over two seasons.
In the NHL, Voracek had never even broken the 50-point mark until the 2013-14 season.
"I think every year you kind of gain confidence and know what you can do," said Lecavalier, who broke out in his fifth NHL season in Tampa Bay. "When I first got to the team last year, I thought he was just as good, just as strong and just as fast and smart on the ice. He's an unbelievable player. Now you kind of see him racking up more points, but I think it's confidence of knowing what you can do and maybe be more consistent throughout the year."
Carter has won the Stanley Cup twice with the Los Angeles Kings, who acquired him from Columbus for Jack Johnson in February 2012. But Voracek is still growing into a dominant offensive player.
"You never know what your ceiling is," Voracek said. "We leave everything out there every game. We hate losing. As long as your work ethic's going to be there ... I can't really tell you how much better we can get."
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