Flyers

Jakub Voracek: Flyers' core could be 'blown up' if things don't change

Jakub Voracek: Flyers' core could be 'blown up' if things don't change

Jakub Voracek struggled to find answers.

He wasn't sure why the Flyers saw such a goal-scoring plummet after the first two months of the season. He didn't know exactly what this team needs moving forward.

In fact, Voracek said "I don't know" three times during his end-of-the-season press conference last Tuesday. He looked worn down but pensive after just finishing his 82nd game of the season. The 2016-17 campaign was still fresh but disappointingly done.

But Voracek did know one thing. He knew darn well the history of the Flyers' current core and what's next if the script doesn't soon change.

"We're in our prime years," Voracek said. "We've got to make sure that we step up our game and get this team to the playoffs and start winning some series because if we don't, it's going to get blown up and we all know it."

The Flyers are watching the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, marking their worst five-season stretch since 1989-90 to 1993-94, when they missed the postseason all five times. The Flyers have not won a playoff series since 2011-12.

Voracek is well aware.

"There's no reason not to believe in ourselves," Voracek said. "It's tough to tell you something else. We have what, won one [playoff] series vs. Pittsburgh in six years? Right? If I'm not mistaken. It's not good enough."

General manager Ron Hextall laughed two days later when he heard of Voracek's comments.

"Jake said that?" he asked. "Jake's a hockey player. Jake can play hockey."

Hextall, comfortable with the veterans in place, said this is the team's leadership group -- no one is coming in here to change or add to it.

"We expect that of them," Hextall said. "They're not 20 years old. They're mid-to-late 20s those guys, absolutely, they should be the leaders of our team."

The Flyers' core of Voracek, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier welcomes that responsibility. All five are under 30 years old and see some of their best years ahead.

That doesn't mean the pressure isn't on -- those five feel it. They know things can change quickly in the NHL, just how the league is turning younger and younger.

"Of course," Giroux said. "When you don't make the playoffs, when you don't meet your expectations, change might happen. But at the end of the day, it's not up to us. For us, it's to keep working, keep doing what we're doing. We like our team, we like our group. We didn't really change from last year."

Voracek sounded like a player growing impatient with the results. Hextall and the front office have practiced plenty of patience. Voracek believes it's time to reward them for it.

"It's a time for us to take that kind of responsibility," Voracek said. "G's 29, he's not a young guy anymore. I'll be 28, Simmer's going to be 29. It's the time for us to take over I think. We've been around for a while." 

Giroux is the oldest of the five aforementioned players, a group that has been intact since the 2011-12 season. The Flyers' captain turns 30 years old in January. He took another step back in 2016-17 -- both health and production wise.

The Flyers see a much stronger Giroux next season. It still all starts with the nine-year Flyer.

"He's going to get some time to get some rest, get some training," Simmonds said. "He'll come back healthy. Just the type of player and the type of competitor he is, he'll be back 100 percent."

The organization's abundance of youth is a reason why the Flyers still see promise in their core.

"Overall, we have some young guys getting their first steps here in the league," Couturier said. "I think it's just growing as a team, more mature as a player. I think everyone needs to step up next year and be better."

The Flyers finished eight points behind last year's team, which snuck into the playoffs on the second-to-last day of the regular season.

Does the fear of change ever sink in?

"It's not my decision," Couturier said. "I can't control that. I like our core. Next year, all these guys are back and we're a pretty good team. It's just little things during the year, a few points that we let slip basically cost us. We've just got to be better and get more wins."

Voracek, always honest and transparent, was harshest on himself. It was an early sign of leadership from the core facing increasing pressure.

"As a player, you've got to take pride in plus-minus, and I'm minus-24 -- it's embarrassing," Voracek said. "It goes on a stretch and you have to take pride in that."

One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

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Zack Hill/ Philadelphia Flyers

One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Bobby Brink will remember waiting.

With the NHL draft, most players will say it doesn't matter where you go or when you're taken, it's just special to hear your name called — a dream realized.

Brink, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound winger from Minnetonka, Minnesota, masterfully delivered in his draft year. He carved up the USHL for 68 points (35 goals, 33 assists) in 43 regular-season games with the Sioux City Musketeers, turning himself into what many viewed as a first-round prospect.

He didn't learn his draft destiny until Saturday, Day 2 of the event, at pick No. 34 overall.

"I landed in a great spot with the Flyers," Brink said last month at development camp, "and I couldn't be happier to be here."

Thrilled, absolutely. But …

"It's motivation that teams passed up on you," Brink said. "It was a long day Friday."

He won't forget.

The Flyers traded up to snag Brink. They were excited he was still available on Day 2, three selections into the second round (see story). Brink said he had met with the Flyers throughout the year and at the NHL Scouting Combine.

"I knew the history of the Flyers," Brink said. "It's such an historic organization.

"They didn't tell me they were going to draft me or anything, but I thought I was on their radar."

For good reason.

Brink isn't regarded as the biggest, fastest or strongest, but there's a deceptive quickness to his skating, he thrives on outsmarting the opposition and he's exceptionally skilled. 

I rely on the scouts to put the list together and Bobby was a player that our entire staff highly endorsed, scouted and very much liked as a hockey player. I've known Bobby and his family for many years. His dad Andy coached my son and also taught him in school. So there's a long relationship there. 

In terms of the background, I felt comfortable giving my opinion to the staff about what a quality kid from a quality family. Watched him play at every level, and it's remarkable — he was a star player in squirt and peewee, and he's a star player in the USHL. It's been amazing to watch his rise. He's a high-quality prospect.

- Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher

During the 5-on-5 scrimmage to finish off development camp, Brink stood out playing alongside top prospects Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe.

"He's a small guy, but he works hard," the 6-foot-6 Ratcliffe said. "He seemed to control the puck and it was on a string for him out there.

"He's a really good player."

Brink, who is headed to the University of Denver, said growing up he has admired smaller players in the NHL like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane.

"Seeing them do that, I realize that I can do it, too," Brink said. "They're providing me opportunity, for the smaller guys, by having so much success."

Gaudreau, the 25-year-old five-time All-Star, is a 5-foot-9, 165-pound winger who was drafted out of the USHL in 2011. He heard his name called in the fourth round.

Sometimes waiting can be a good thing.

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Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

The Flyers selected Noah Cates during the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, plucking him out of Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota with the 137th overall pick.

At the time, Brent Flahr, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were sitting at No. 147.

"A kid like Cates was right in our backyard," Flahr said. "One thing in Minnesota when you are there, you hate when Minnesota players, especially the good ones, go ahead of you."

Flahr can now thank Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor. As the assistant general manager of the Flyers, Flahr no longer has to kick himself for missing out on Cates.

"Nick Pryor did a good job," Flahr said last month at development camp. "He was right near his house. They got him. He looks like a real good prospect for us."


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

As a fifth-round pick out of high school, Cates was once well below the surface in the Flyers' prospect pool. With time and hard work, he's beginning to blossom — and the Flyers see it. 

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. "He's quietly gotten better and better every year, and everything we ask him to do, he's doing it."

In 2017-18, Cates scored nearly a point per game (21 goals, 34 assists) over 60 contests with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. He then followed it up by playing an important role for 2019 national champion University of Minnesota Duluth, recording 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-12 mark through 40 games as a freshman.

What made the national title even sweeter was winning it alongside his brother Jackson Cates, for a school just shy of a 2½-hour drive from his parents Jeff and Jenny Cates.

"Awesome," Cates said. "I think they were at every game this year. It was so much easier for them that we were in the same spot, a couple hours from home. They're obviously so proud of us."

Couple his freshman year with a goal and two assists for the U.S. in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a productive 2018-19 for Cates.

"Just grew so much, developed so much with the college game — living on my own, going to school and everything like that," Cates said. "Just an awesome year all around and capping it off with that national championship was so special with my family."

Cates is far from the skinny, offense-first player he was in high school. He's gone from 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. He's a smart, all-situation thinker — in large part because of his development with the Bulldogs and trust from head coach Scott Sandelin.

"My role kind of grew as the year went on, got more comfortable," Cates said. "A little bit of power play, some penalty kill, last-minute stuff — that's important to play in all those key situations, so important moving on to have that experience. To do it for a team like that, it was really special. I can't say enough good things about that program and the whole year in general. Coach Sandelin gave me a lot of opportunity and I'm so grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it."

The Flyers noticed.

"He scored goals, he's on the ice when you're protecting leads, he's killing penalties," Samuelsson said. "He's a very rounded hockey player."

Cates said it's too early to tell how long he'll stay in school.

"When you're on a team like that and with a program like that, you don't want to leave too early and maybe hurt your career," Cates said, "especially with the opportunity that's in Duluth."

After all, there's no real rush. Flahr, Fletcher and the Flyers know him well.

"So happy to be in Philadelphia," Cates said.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development. They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

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