Flyers

Flyers' Mike Vecchione beat out by Will Butcher for 2017 Hobey Baker Award

Flyers' Mike Vecchione beat out by Will Butcher for 2017 Hobey Baker Award

It's been a big week for Mike Vecchione.

After signing an entry-level contract with the Flyers last Friday and making his NHL debut Tuesday in New Jersey, Vecchione finished the week in Chicago on Friday night as one of the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's highest individual honor. 

But the Union College product came up shy of coming back to Philadelphia with the award, as Denver University defenseman Will Butcher won the 2017 Hobey Baker Award.

Vecchione was the first Union player to make the top three finalists. Shayne Gostisbehere, who was Vecchione's teammate during his freshman season, was a top-10 finalist three years ago when the two won a national championship at the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.

Vecchione was the ECAC Player of the Year in 2016-17 after leading Union College with 29 goals. His 1.66 points per game average was tied with Northeastern forward Zach Aston-Reese for highest average in the NCAA. He is the Dutchmen's all-time leading scorer with 175 points and also holds the school's assist record with 104.

Aston-Reese was the other Hobey Baker finalist.

Earlier this week, Vecchione, Gostisbehere and Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid were part of an NHL-first at Prudential Center -- three players from Union College participating in an NHL game simultaneously. 

Vecchione left for Chicago on Thursday night. He will rejoin the Flyers sometime on Saturday, but coach Dave Hakstol said he won't be in the lineup because of the travel issues involved with the Hobey Baker ceremonies.
 
The Flyers have a rare 12:30 p.m. start against Columbus on Saturday. Instead, Vecchione will play in Sunday's season finale against Carolina.

CSNPhilly.com's Tom Dougherty contributed to this report.

The Jakub Voracek balance doesn't have to be so complicated

The Jakub Voracek balance doesn't have to be so complicated

VOORHEES, N.J. — Jakub Voracek has the NHL’s seventh-most assists since the 2013-14 season.

His job description as a playmaker comes with a double-edged sword. Throughout his career, he has been tasked with creating offense. To do so, it requires pushing the envelope — taking risks, making bang-bang decisions and playing instinctually.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

When a facilitator like Voracek tries to make plays at a prolific clip, he’s bound to make mistakes. It’s no coincidence the year Voracek set career highs in assists (65) and points (85), he also had his most giveaways (65). That was 2017-18, the Flyers’ best season (42 wins, 98 points) since 2011-12, when the franchise last won a playoff series.

Voracek is in a new system with a new head coach. He and Alain Vigneault are still getting to know each other — from the player’s tendencies to the coach’s style. 

In the third game of the relationship, Voracek was demoted from the first line to the fourth unit during the third period and played his fewest minutes (14:30) since 2015-16. In the fifth game, Voracek climbed from the third line to the second unit alongside Kevin Hayes and Oskar Lindblom after scoring a goal during the first period. He ended up with two goals and an assist during the 6-3 loss to the Oilers, although his final two points came late in the third when the game was out of reach.

“That’s why I made that quick change after the first period where I put him with Haysey and Oskar,” Vigneault said Friday following practice. “I thought his first period was good. He had good vibes, good energy. He was protecting the puck well. For the most part, that for him was a step in the right direction.”

Ultimately, Voracek needs to be himself. The Flyers are better when he’s himself. Over the past five seasons, the Flyers went 59-18-10 when Voracek had a multi-point game. When he’s himself, he’s not overthinking, he’s playing freely — and, yes, he’s playing harder and smarter. Voracek understands there must be a balance between aggressiveness and conservativeness with his playmaking.

And he knows fans might struggle to grasp the intricacies of that balance.

Prior to his three-point effort against Edmonton, Voracek had gone scoreless through the first four games of the season for the first time in his career.

If I play good defense, nobody is going to see that because I don’t produce offensively. If I produce offensively and I still make a couple of mistakes, they’re going to say I’m sh---y defensively. It’s a no-win situation. 

But I think defensively, I was pretty good when you look at those games. But it’s not good enough for me and for the team. I expect more out of myself offensively. And that’s what it takes sometimes, you have to … not take chances, but you have to create more. Obviously with creating more, being on the puck more, there’s a bigger chance you’re going to f--- it up sometimes.

With me right now, I’m 30 years old, I think we’re focusing on helping the team to win the game. If it’s scoring goals, getting an assist, making a good defensive play, focusing on playing good defense — it doesn’t matter as long as we find a way to win.

Confidence often drives Voracek. An important play or big goal can lead to points in bunches from the winger. He has mentioned that word a lot in his time here. Vigneault, Voracek and the Flyers will have to find ways to boost confidence together.

“A lot of it has to do with confidence,” Voracek said. “If you go in, if you don’t produce and if you are careful, it’s hard to gain something. I could still end up with four of five points in the first four games, the chances were there — passing, couple of chances, but it didn’t. If it did, it would be a different story. If you get the goal, if you get an assist, that builds up your confidence little bit.

"Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t good [in those games], either. Especially during the seasons in the past, you can’t have four or five games and end up with one point [and say] your game could be at the top level.

"The funny thing is, when you play well, it’s easy to find the balance because you have confidence.”

As Voracek makes plays, he will also make mistakes.

Is it frustrating when the fans or media only see the mistakes?

“Obviously from upstairs, you see the different perspective of the ice,” Voracek said. “There are different lanes when you have the puck, you see different things. I got here the way I played before and the way I was, I think, doing the right things. But sometimes it’s hard to satisfy everybody, you know what I mean? Especially today, it’s really hard to satisfy everyone. It’s almost impossible in today’s society.”

That’s why Voracek just needs to be himself. There is no perfect balance.

Overthinking in search of it won’t help Voracek or the Flyers.

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Flyers loan Connor Bunnaman to Phantoms; is Nolan Patrick nearing a return?

Flyers loan Connor Bunnaman to Phantoms; is Nolan Patrick nearing a return?

Updated: 2:52 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers on Friday loaned forward Connor Bunnaman to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

The move could mean center Nolan Patrick, who has been week to week with a migraine disorder, is nearing a return.

When Patrick does come back, there will be an odd man out of the lineup. Bunnaman, a 21-year-old rookie, was the likely candidate. Instead of having him sit and watch, the team signed veteran Chris Stewart, who can be the 13th forward, as Bunnaman continues his development with the Phantoms.

"We want the kid to play," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said after practice Friday. "I really think we’ve got a good, young player there. 

"He’s a 21-year-old player that got 19 goals last year in the American League, that’s pretty good. He needs to play, he needs to get some minutes, and then when he comes back here at some point, he’ll be a better player for us."

Stewart will play Saturday against the Stars at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./NBCSP).

With Patrick not quite back yet, the Flyers could call up a forward from Lehigh Valley for some added offense. The candidates are Joel Farabee, German Rubtsov, Mikhail Vorobyev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel or possibly a veteran like Andy Andreoff. The Flyers currently have only 12 forwards and the roster is at 21 players. It can be at a maximum 23.

Patrick did more solo work Friday and took part in practice wearing a non-contact jersey.

"I see Nolan around, I really would tell you that when there’s feedback as far as where he is, I get it from our medical staff," Vigneault said. "I have been told that he’s been making some progress. Today I think was his longest practice, it was almost 30 minutes with us. So I think he’s on the right track."

The 21-year-old missed all of training camp and the preseason.

"We consulted a lot of different people and I think we feel we're in a good place medically," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Sept. 26. "We'll hope for the best."

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