CHICAGO - Jake Voracek is inching his way back to the Flyers' lineup.

The star winger made the trip to Chicago and took part in an optional skate Wednesday morning.

"Every day he gets closer," coach Dave Hakstol said before the Flyers faced the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. "He's day to day, but he's making progress."

Entering Wednesday, the Flyers were 6-1-1 without Voracek, who is recovering from an injury to his left foot. They had scored four goals in six of those eight games.

Hakstol was asked how the Flyers had played so well without their second-leading scorer.

"At this time of year, in the situation we're in, we don't really have a choice," he said. "The alternative isn't very good. Our group has just continued to play hard. But we're not doing anything a whole lot different over the last five or 10 games than we had over the [previous] 20 to 30 games. Everybody's playing hard together, and we're at a critical point in our year."

When Voracek returns - perhaps Saturday against visiting Pittsburgh - Hakstol will have a tough decision: Which player comes out of the lineup?

Candidates include Scott Laughton, Chris VandeVelde, Nick Cousins, and Sam Gagner, who entered the night with five goals in his last 11 games.

Rookie showdown

The game matched arguably the NHL's best rookies - Chicago winger Artemi Panarin and Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.

The Flyers have never had a Calder Trophy winner, given to the league's rookie of the year, but Gostisbehere, 22, is a strong candidate. He began Wednesday leading all NHL defensemen in goals per 60 minutes (0.94) and points per 60 minutes (2.37).

Before Gostisbehere's arrival, the Flyers were 5-8-3. They entered Wednesday 28-15-9 with him.

Entering the night, Gostisbehere led rookie defensemen in goals (16) goals and points (39) in his 50 games. Each of his 16 goals either gave the Flyers the lead, tied a game, or proved to be the winning tally.

Panarin, 24, playing primarily on a line that includes superstar Patrick Kane, had 25 goals and 62 points - and both figures paced NHL rookies.


Michal Neuvirth made his first start in the last six games. . . . The average length of Wayne Simmonds' scores is 12 feet, 4 inches, the shortest distance in the league among players with 25 or more goals, according to The statistic does not include empty-net goals or penalty shots.