Flyers

Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Jakub Voracek was refreshingly honest.
 
He didn’t come to his end-of-the-season press conference wearing a hard-covered shell, as hockey players seemingly do so often — showing no brokenness, not even an inkling of weakness.
 
NHLers are predetermined as the toughest, so, understandably, they play the part.
 
But on Tuesday at Flyers Skate Zone, Voracek, making $66 million over eight years, was transparent, forthright and real.

He just finished a season in which he referred to as a “roller coaster.” He scored one goal in his first 30 games after finishing 2014-15 with 81 points, tied for fourth most in the NHL. He was moved from line to line, position to position. He then missed nine games from late February to mid March with a left foot injury. When he came back, he was never quite the same.

All told, it was not the season Voracek hoped for — instead, it was draining.

It took its toll physically, but even more so mentally on the 26-year-old.

“It’s not like I’m crying here or something, but when things don’t go your way, sometimes you overthink things,” Voracek said. “It’s kind of cliché to squeeze the stick too tight. But we are professionals, we get paid to make a difference in the game.

“I wouldn’t use it as an excuse, but with me, everything coming automatically — passes, shooting — I never did overthink things. This year, sometimes, before I passed the puck, I was thinking, ‘What if I hit something, what if the puck doesn’t make it there?’ Before I even passed it. I think I had a little confidence issue this year sometimes.”

Voracek finished with 44 assists, the second-highest total of his career. But he scored 11 goals, the fewest since his 2008-09 rookie season and, after registering at least eight power-play markers in each of his previous three seasons, Voracek tallied just one over 73 games in 2015-16.

The playmaking winger looked visibly hampered by the injury from which he returned. Without using it as a reason for his struggles, Voracek admitted his foot was not fully healthy the rest of the regular season and postseason.

When he came back March 19, Voracek posted a goal and six assists over his final 13 regular-season games. In six contests of the Flyers’ best-of-seven first-round playoff series loss to the Capitals, he scored a goal for one point.

“That foot, it’s not healed 100 percent. It’s going to take awhile, but it didn’t change my game,” he said. “I wasn’t very confident on that foot but it’s not an excuse for me to have one point in the whole series. Just got to be better, that’s the easiest way to say it. You learn the hard way sometimes and I learned the hard way.”

Voracek said his foot injury will not require surgery.

When asked if it limited his speed, he went into detail.

“My game is built around the first three steps, cutting and crossing,” he said. “When you have two or three quick steps, you’re used to getting great acceleration from the other players and then you have more time to make the play. I wouldn’t say it was hurting and that’s why I wasn’t myself, but if you don’t create that separation that you are used to, you start missing passes, you start missing things and you’re not in a place that you’re used to.

“Like I said, I’m not using it as an excuse.”

And he truly meant it — this was not an excuse. A question was asked and Voracek answered it honestly.

“That foot wasn’t the reason that I didn’t play like I did last year,” he said. “There are things you have to deal with, injuries are going to come and go. You have to find a way, when I get back from an injury, to compete better.”

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall isn’t worried.

“Jake is going to put up better numbers next year,” Hextall said. “He’s going to make more plays, his game is going to be better than it was this year.”

Voracek carried with him the pressure of a career season that fruited into a lengthy contract extension.

“You know what, I think it’s in your back of the head,” Voracek said. “But you try not to think about it. You sign that contract for a reason, you sign with other people believing in you. I always leave on the ice 100 percent of my worth.

“Since I’ve been in Philly, I would say I was a pretty consistent player in the last four years until up to this year. Every day you learn something new. For next year, I’m going to learn how to be more consistent.”

Because of his health, Voracek will not play in the 2016 IIHF World Championships. He will use this offseason to recover and learn.

He’s already started.

“You learn the hard way. I learned,” Voracek said. “Whatever happened, happened. I’ll rest up and move on, be better next year.”