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Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Noah Cates hoping for strong first year in NCAA

The player that kicks off our countdown is a skilled winger from the USHL who will look to take another step forward this year as he heads off to college.

Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the bigger surprises of the Flyers’ offseason took place on the first night of the NHL Draft, when Ron Hextall used the team’s second pick to go a bit off the board and take center Jay O’Brien. The pick may have caught the casual viewer a bit off-guard, for one particular reason: while many of the players taken in the first round spent their draft years playing in one of the well-known Canadian junior hockey leagues, or perhaps against professionals in Europe, O’Brien spent almost all of his draft season squaring off against American high school players with Massachusetts’ Thayer Academy.

We’ll talk more about O’Brien when his turn comes up in this countdown, but the fact that the Flyers evidently paid attention to the high school ranks shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. Just a year prior, in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, the Flyers plucked a player out of one of the self-proclaimed State of Hockey’s schools, taking winger Noah Cates of Stillwater Area High School.

It appears that what Cates did in his draft year did nothing to scare them away from going back to that well the following year — and that makes sense, since Cates is surely a prospect trending in the right direction in this pipeline.

No. 25: Noah Cates

Position: LW
Age: 19 (2/5/1999)
Size: 6’1”, 180-185 (via)
Acquired Via: 2017 NHL Draft — Round 5, Pick 137
2017-18 League/Team/Statistics: Omaha (USHL) - 21 G, 34 A in 60 GP
Nationality: American
Ranking in BSH Winter 2018 25 Under 25: Unranked (did not make top 25)

The timing of this post worked out for us, as Cates received some good news just this past Wednesday: he was one of 29 players to survive cuts for the U.S. team at the World Junior Summer Showcase out in British Columbia. That doesn’t guarantee Cates anything as it pertains to this winter’s upcoming World Junior Championships — after all, reports from practice post-cut had him skating on the fifth line — but the fact that he’s been able to get himself a long look in the summer, in a youth hockey pool as deep as the one the U.S. currently has, speaks to the fact that hockey people seem to like what Cates can bring to the table.

At this time a year ago, Cates — who posted 65 points in 25 high school games in his senior year — was still something of an unknown to most Flyers fans, even though he at one point in his junior year managed to get some nationwide attention on this dazzling overtime winner that got him on SportsCenter and sent his Stillwater team to the state championship tournament.

So ... he has good hands. Check.

That was about all we knew at that point, but it seemed like a worthwhile risk to take a guy who obviously has some skill and may be something of an unknown in the fifth round of the draft. Still, a big test stood ahead of Cates as he began the 2017-18 season: a significant step up in quality of opposition. Dominating high schoolers as a senior is one thing, but as Cates set out for a full season with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, it remained to be seen how he’d handle a somewhat level playing field in the season before he headed off to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

And to be sure, it took Cates some time to get going out of the gate. The winger posted just five points in his first 13 games with Omaha, but started to really establish himself in the league around Thanksgiving. A sequence of three straight two-point games beginning on November 25 seemed to be the jumping-off point, and from the beginning of that streak to the end of the season, Cates was good for 49 points in those 46 games he played. His 55 total points were good for second on the Lancers and tied him for ninth in the entire USHL during the regular season.

The idea that a switch flipped for Cates after some initial struggles in the USHL is an encouraging one, as it shows that the young forward has some ability to adapt to the changes around him and ultimately use his skills to overcome the challenges that inevitably come with that. Cates spoke to NBC Sports Philly’s Jordan Hall back at development camp, and in doing so he specifically cited two things that helped his later-season rise: increased comfort with the league, and increased strength (per the piece, Cates weighed in at 165 pounds in 2017 development camp, before ending the season in the 180 to 185-pound range.

Both of those improvements are going to be at the forefront this coming season, as Cates will be facing off with NCAA players that will once again be bigger, stronger, and better than the players he was facing the year prior. And on a Minnesota-Duluth team that happens to be the reigning national champions, the expectations figure to be pretty high, and a freshman like Cates is going to need to impress. But whether it happens right away or takes some time, like it did this past season, Cates has shown the ability to take the challenges given to him and work through them with some time. If and when that next step comes, the Flyers will know they’ve got another talented forward in the pipeline to look forward to.

How We Voted For Noah Cates

Bill Brad Craig Jake Jaypo Joe John Kelly Kurt Kyle Maddie Mike Steph Steve Community
Bill Brad Craig Jake Jaypo Joe John Kelly Kurt Kyle Maddie Mike Steph Steve Community
NR NR NR 21 NR 19 NR 22 NR 25 NR NR 22 NR NR

How We Voted At No. 25

Bill Brad Craig Jake Jaypo Joe John Kelly Kurt Kyle Maddie Mike Steph Steve Community
Bill Brad Craig Jake Jaypo Joe John Kelly Kurt Kyle Maddie Mike Steph Steve Community
Anthony Stolarz Danick Martel Linus Hogberg Mark Friedman Taylor Leier Mark Friedman Wyatt Kalynuk Pascal Laberge Mark Friedman Noah Cates John St. Ivany Carsen Twarynski John St. Ivany Adam Ginning Danick Martel

How The Community Voted At No. 25

Ranking # of Votes
Ranking # of Votes
1 0
2 0
3 0
4 1
5 0
6 0
7 3
8 0
9 0
10 0
11 1
12 2
13 1
14 2
15 1
16 4
17 2
18 3
19 1
20 9
21 9
22 11
23 21
24 23
25 34
NR 888

Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2018 Top 25 Under 25: