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Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Cam York the new big-name prospect on defense

The Flyers finally went back to the defensive well in the first round of the draft. What does their newest blueliner bring to the table?

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2019 NHL Draft - Portraits
A worrying sign that the Flyers’ newest big-name defensive prospect thinks that the way to play hockey is to hold your stick up near your head.
Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Poor Cam York never had a chance.

OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Flyers fans seem more than willing to give the newest big-name defensive prospect to enter their system the time to show what he can be. And his placement on our rankings shows that our panel is already impressed, based on what they’ve gathered on him in his limited time as a Flyers prospect.

Still, you can’t help but shake your head and laugh. Two years ago, the Flyers made a surprising trade during the first round of the NHL Draft, got their fans’ hopes up that they were going to take a big-name goal-scoring prospect in Eeli Tolvanen, and then went ahead and took ... someone else. Two years later, the Flyers made a not-that-surprising (and admittedly less significant) trade during the first round of the NHL Draft, got their fans’ hopes up that they were going to take a big-name goal-scoring prospect in Cole Caufield, and then went ahead and took ... someone else.

Of course, if we’re going to laugh about the circumstances, we would then be remiss to not point out that York following in a similar path to Morgan Frost’s since his draft is something we’d all love to see. Frost took huge steps forward in each of his two post-draft seasons, is now a near-consensus top-40 prospect in hockey, and has a fighter’s chance at making the Flyers’ NHL roster this season. And all of that was from a guy who, most places you looked, had a second-round draft grade.

York, meanwhile, was widely expected to go somewhere in the teens of the first round — exactly where he went, as the Flyers snapped him up at 14th overall in Vancouver two months ago. There’s a reasonable case to be made that he was the second-best defensive prospect in that entire draft, behind only Bowen Byram (now of the Colorado Avalanche). If York takes the same kinds of steps forward that his fellow Flyers prospect did, we could be talking about a really special player.

So the expectations are clear. And with the first “wave” of big-name defensive prospects of this era all either in the NHL or expected to be next year — after taking Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim, and Ivan Provorov in the first round in consecutive drafts, the Flyers hadn’t taken a defenseman in the first round since 2015 — the Flyers’ newest first-round pick immediately becomes the highest-profile true prospect on defense in the organization.

No. 12: Cam York

Position: D
Age: 18 (1/5/2001)
Size: 5’11”, 174
Acquired Via: 2019 NHL Draft — Round 1, Pick 14 (Pick acquired from Arizona along with Pick No. 45 in 2019 for Pick No. 11 in 2019 on June 21, 2019)
2018-19 League/Team/Statistics: U.S. NTDP (USHL) - 14 G, 51 A in 63 GP
Nationality: American
Ranking in BSH Winter 2019 25 Under 25: N/A (Not in system)

First, let’s take this all the way back:

Cam York holding up a Stanley Cup and talking about playing good. Folks, if that’s not foreshadowing right there, I’m going to be sorely disappointed.

Plus, look at that hair. No matter where you currently stand on the Flyers as an organization, we all have to admit that if there’s one area in which the Flyers have unequivocally earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s with gingers. We got a keeper here.

In all seriousness, York has been on some pretty big stages in the world of U.S. hockey over the course of his playing days. A native of southern California, York spent two years playing at the infamous Shattuck St. Mary’s school in Minnesota, where many well-known and established NHLers have spent parts of their teens over the past few decades. York then spent the next two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program, jumping up to the U18 team during his U17 season before taking on a bigger role as the U18 team’s top defenseman this past season.

By the time York’s season was over, he had firmly established himself as one of the best draft-eligible defensemen available, and as one of the best players on a loaded NTDP team. Sure, those guys helped him achieve some of the great heights he reached this past season, but when someone ends the year with a single-season points record for his program, you have to figure he’s doing some things right, and York’s 65 points in 63 games earned him that honor.

And while you so often heard it suggested that young defensemen that light up the scoreboard are inevitably giving a lot of it back on the defensive end, that’s not necessarily true of York. The thing you hear said a lot about him is how calm he is, or how controlled he is, or how well-rounded he is. Here’s what our own Johan Gartner said about him back in June, two days before the Flyers picked him up:

York is very good all over the ice, and he has exceptional hockey smarts. York lacks the elite speed you’d like to see in a smaller defenseman but he is still a great skater with good mobility and edge-work. He maintains good gap control and he has great balance which helps him to win puck battles and beating forwards on the blue line in the offensive zone. Something York does really well is that he never seems to be caught out of position, he knows when to pinch in the offensive zone and he knows when you should clear the puck or when you can break out of your own zone with a great outlet pass or even skate it out himself. He possesses a good shot and is a very good passer. All-in-all he plays a strong two-way game and in a few years he could be someone you play in all situations.

And here, courtesy of Scott Wheeler of The Athletic earlier this month (subscription required), is a quote from Brian Wiseman, new assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers who spent the previous eight seasons as an assistant at the University of Michigan (where York will be playing this coming fall):

“He’s extremely productive. It’s just not a high-risk way,” Wiseman said. “There might be Player A that is a plus-five in scoring chances in a game but he’s plus-nine on one end and minus-four on the other end to give him that plus-five. And that’s good, but I think Cam is going to get to plus-five by going plus-six and minus-one in his approach and how he manages his game.

“There’s not a lot of high risk to his game, but there’s certainly a lot of reward, whether it’s himself or the guys on the ice, whether it’s his outlets out of the D-zone, his transition game, his decision-making through the neutral zone or the offensive zone. He’s got a high skill level: his skating, his sense, his ability to make plays with the puck. I just think he does it at a very, very efficient rate. Maybe some don’t appreciate that as much as I do.”

It’s rare you find a defenseman that coaches will say those kinds of things about at the age of 18. That’s not to say York is a finished product or anything close; obviously, he’ll have to prove he can do anything close to what he can now when he reaches higher levels, and chances are the Flyers would like him to grow a bit more from his current 5’11”, 174-pound stature. But York seems like a guy who can be a productive NHL defenseman in a lot of different ways, and guys who can do that are the ones that stick around nowadays.

York, as mentioned, will be heading to Ann Arbor this coming season after decommitting from Boston College last year. He will, barring injury, be on Team USA’s World Junior roster (along with fellow Flyers prospect Joel Farabee, who should be there barring his making the NHL team), and should be one of its best defensemen. The long-term timeline for him isn’t clear; York told Bill Meltzer at the Flyers’ website that he’d like to play in the NHL as soon as possible, but the Flyers figure to take at least a year or two to see what they have in him. In any case, York is now the headliner of the Flyers’ second wave of defensive prospects, and it should be exciting to see him over the next few years.

Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2019 Top 25 Under 25: