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Jackets hope Voracek is ready for an NHL job

Thursday, 07.31.2008 / 9:00 AM / Prospects

All Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Jakub Voracek had to do was get on a scale. His weight was proof enough of how much he wants to play in the NHL, and how he may already be capable of making the jump from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"He had a good camp last year, but he weighed 181 pounds and was a little bit high in body fat," Tyler Wright, the Blue Jackets' development coach, told NHL.com. "He comes in here this year and he's 202 pounds and he's dropped some body fat. To put on 21 pounds and drop body fat in a year shows he made that commitment."

The Jackets used the seventh selection in last year's Entry Draft on Voracek, an 18-year-old from the Czech Republic. When they picked him, he had played all of one season in North America -- in which he put up 110 points in 71 games for Halifax, playoffs included, to earn the QMJHL's Top Offensive Rookie award.

His offensive production increased to 119 points in only 68 games this past season, enough to put Voracek atop Columbus' prospects board.

The Jackets aren't just hoping the talented teen with incredible vision and passing ability makes the squad coming out of training camp. They're close to counting on him -- even if Voracek is still shy about the expectations.
   
"I don't really want to talk about that," he told NHL.com during Columbus' prospect development camp earlier this month. "The main training camp is pretty far away. I am working harder than I ever did, and we'll see if I'm going to be successful."

Voracek is so serious about his training that he is living in Columbus this summer and spending his days with Jackets' strength and conditioning coach Barry Brennan. He said he's already added another four pounds of muscle already, bringing his weight up to around 206. He hopes to be at least 210 by the time training camp opens in September.

"I can't say if I am ready right now because I have two more months here with Barry Brennan," Voracek said. "My big weakness was I wasn't too heavy. I was 190 and I wasn't too strong. Right now I'm 206 and I feel pretty strong. They didn't talk to me about weight, but I think they want me at 210 and I'm going to try to be around that."
Added Paul Castron, the Blue Jackets' director of amateur scouting: "He's put on some good weight and that will help him this fall when he comes back to camp. He needed strength and he's going to need even more to play 82 games in the NHL."

"I can't say if I am ready right now because I have two more months here with Barry Brennan. My big weakness was I wasn't too heavy. I was 190 and I wasn't too strong. Right now I'm 206 and I feel pretty strong."

-- Jakub Voracek

Voracek said he's a right wing that likes to play along the boards, like his idol, Jaromir Jagr. They're from the same hometown, Kladno, but Voracek said he hasn't had much interaction with Jagr other than seeing him play a few times.

"The ice is tight here, not as big as it is in Europe, so it's an advantage for me," Voracek said. "I don't know why, but when I was younger I always liked playing on the boards. It doesn't mean I don't want to skate, but I just like it on the boards. It's good for me and I hope I can take that style to the NHL."

Voracek is more of a passer than a shooter. Of his 229 points over the past two seasons, including playoffs, 161 have come on assists. All six of his points in the 2008 World Junior Championships were by way of the pass.

"He's a real, real smart player and he sees the ice so well," Castron said. "He's more of a playmaker than a scorer. That's his game. He likes to set other players up. He plays the point on the power play and controls the flow of the game from back there."

Both Castron and Wright said now that Voracek has added muscle, the only aspect of his game that could possibly hold him back another year is his shooting, or lack thereof.

They said he's got a phenomenal shot. They just want to see it more often.

"He's never going to lose his instinct to be the playmaker he is, but you can't be predictable, right?" Castron said. "You have to give them something else to think about. He's got to shoot more."

In time, Voracek probably will.

Remember, the knock against Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk when he was coming up from Europe -- and for the first few seasons of his NHL career -- was that he didn't shoot enough.

"Yeah, and he's a pretty good player," Wright said of Datsyuk, who scored a career-high 31 goals this past season while also dishing out a career-high 66 assists.

It's way too early to talk about Voracek and Datsyuk in the same breath, but that's the kind of comparison the Blue Jackets want hockey fans to be making in a couple of years.

"I'm really intrigued with this kid," Wright said. "I think he can be a really special player in the League for a long, long time."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com


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