Last summer, Jakub Voracek was traded for the second time in his career. This trade came just over a decade after the first one and also included the Columbus Blue Jackets. This time Voracek would return to Central Ohio where they had made him the 7th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
It was a bittersweet moment for Columbus. On one hand, they welcomed home one of their own but on the other, they were forced to bid farewell to perhaps their greatest draft success story - Cam Atkinson. The undersized forward was selected by the CBJ in the 6th round of the 2008 draft, one year after the club took Voracek in the first round. Atkinson would not step foot on the ice in Nationwide Arena for three more years, however, he would then spend the next decade donning a Blue Jackets sweater.
Atkinson went on to become one of the all-time greats in franchise history. Not only is he tied with Rick Nash for the most goals in a single season (41), but he also holds the top two spots, in team history, for the most game-winning goals in one season. Not to mention, the Riverside, Connecticut native is one of only four Blue Jackets to ever notch two hat tricks during the same campaign. To top it all off, he is also second in several of the club's career records, including points, goals, and goals created, behind only Nash himself.
Saying goodbye to such an integral part of the organization was undoubtedly a tough decision for management to make, but the move was a practical one. For one, they gained size, adding four inches and 40 lbs going from Atkinson to Voracek. For another, they still got the veteran presence sorely needed on their young team, but Voracek's contract will be up one year sooner than Atkinson's, ending after the 2023-24 season as opposed to being under contract till the 2025 offseason. This bodes well for a team that is in a rebuild/retool.
Yet another and likely the biggest reason, the Blue Jackets brass decided to pull the trigger on this deal, was play style. Both players are on the wrong side of thirty, but the best version of each of them was very different. Atkinson was an elite goal scorer while Voracek was an equally good, if-not-greater, distributor. While Atkinson never had more than 28 assists in a single season, Voracek had 39 or more assists seven out of the eight seasons prior to the trade, including a whopping 65 assists during the 2017-18 season in which he averaged over a point per game. The only one in which he didn't have at least 39 assists was last year's Covid 19-shortened season. With Columbus trying to set up Patrik Laine for success (one of the best goal scorers in the NHL), they needed a highly effective puck distributor. Therefore they deemed it necessary to ship out a franchise cornerstone in order to turn back to Voracek to fit that bill.
- The Blue Jackets' Return
The right-winger from Czechoslovakia did what was asked of him and then some. He was brought in to create scoring opportunities for his linemates and that he did. He not only led the Blue Jackets in assists for the 2021-22 season, but he became second on the franchise's all-time season leader's list with 56. Even more impressive is that, according to moneypuck.com, 40 of those were primary assists, good enough for 7th highest in the NHL last season. Voracek also had a higher percentage of primary assists, last year, than anyone in the league with at least 30 total assists. He posted a team-best 62 total points as well.
The only area he struggled in on offense, was goal scoring, where he posted a career-low six goals. A lot of this is due to the uncharacteristically low shooting percentage of 4.1%, that he shot this past season. However, his career shooting percentage, before the 2021-22 season, was 9.2%. So, if history is any indication, he should be due for an uptick in the goal-scoring department, come next season.
- The Flyers' Return
While Atkinson may not have had quite the record-setting season that Voracek had, he was able to put up 50 points in 73 games, reaching at least 50 points for the fourth time in his career. And while he was unable to sniff his career-high of 41 goals, he did pot 23, eclipsing the 20-goal mark for the 7th time in his 11 years in the NHL.
The Flyers have also just hired John Tortorella to be their next head coach. This may bode well for Atkinson's future success in Philly as he had his best statistical seasons under Tortorella.
Overall, both teams came away with something of value in this trade, but for where they are in the rebuild/retool process as well as the needs of their team, it looks as if the Blue Jackets may have come out of this with the right player for their current situation.