It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Cam York was a real breath of air for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms when he finally made his professional debut back in April. His impacts at 5-on-5 were pretty immediately felt, between playmaking and puck moving, adding an extra bit of dynamic skill to a team already pretty well stocked with it.
But while those impacts have been well documented and discussed, we (or me, maybe it was just me) couldn’t shake the feeling that where York gave the team a real boost was on the power play, but we didn’t really have the same wealth of data as we do at 5-on-5 to confirm or deny that. Well, until now!
We’re here today, with data in hand, to have a look back at York’s eight games with the Phantoms and aiming to answer our question of just how much did he impact the power play, after all. Was the offense translating as well as the eye was suggesting? And how much of the team’s success on the man-advantage was he responsible, at least in part, for driving? We’re rolling on, and answers await!
But, before we move on, a quick hat tip to Judy Cohen, a wonderful human whose excellent work breaking down Boston University’s power play has been rattling around my brain for a while and sparked the idea for this project. Thanks pal!
All stats tracked by Madeline Campbell (that’s me!), and come at 5-on-4.
York on the power play
Looking first at the raw numbers for York’s impacts on the power play, we see that, on the whole, they’re quite solid. We didn’t see him creating a ton in the way of individual offense, with just seven shot attempts, and while we might like to see him using his shot a bit more, he is known more for his playmaking, and given what else we’re seeing in the numbers, we’re not too fussed about him not taking on some kind of volume shooter role.
We alluded to York’s impacts as a playmaker already, and did we ever see that coming out in droves here. All told, with York on the ice, the Phantoms generated 61 shot attempts, 39 scoring chances, and 21 high danger chances over the course of those eight games, which was a very solid total. Between his ability to thread passes to his teammates to ultimately set up chances and to make a timely keep at the blue line to give he and his teammates a little more sustained offensive zone time to work with, York was contributing well to the Phantoms generating pressure and looking like near constant threats when he was on the ice. We saw a lot of offense generated with him on the ice, and York was a key factor in, well, the majority of it. With 27 shot assists and seven individual shot attempts, York factored into 34 of the Phantoms’ 61 shot attempts (that’s 55.74 percent), and that’s a solid figure for any one individual player.
And if we turn to look at just where he was feeding pucks to, there isn’t too much that’s surprising here. We see a lot of his passes being sent to the right half wall, and that makes a lot of sense—the Phantoms’ big play for their top unit seemed to be “get the puck to Cal O’Reilly (arguably their best passing forward), and he’ll make something happen.” O’Reilly was able to distribute the puck lower in the offensive zone to create scoring chances well (more on that later), and the fact that this was a clear and known strategy that opposing penalty killers were prepared for and York was still able to feed so many passes to O’Reilly through traffic really speaks to his effectiveness.
We saw some shifts in passing patterns based on personnel, and this makes a lot of sense too. Towards the second half of his stretch of games, the Phantoms were able to work in one of Tyson Foerster or Wade Allison—both dynamic passers and strong shooting threats in their own rights—on the left half wall, so we saw York feeding them more pucks for one-timers or the occasional cross-slot pass. He showed some pretty immediate chemistry with them, and this added option certainly gave the Phantoms an extra threat level, as they were able to just as easily funnel pucks to the net from both circles.
And then another interesting wrinkle was the power play later in his run of games when York remained out with Derrick Pouliot’s unit, and while Pouliot continued to run the unit from the point, York set up on the right half wall himself. And from there we saw him kick one shot back up to the point for a shot, and then sending a couple to Zayde Wisdom, who was distributing from behind the net, which we know can make for some dangerous chances. And this was, of course, a really quick look for York in this spot, but it’s intriguing to know that he did get, well, at least one rep there, and certainly gives him a little bit more flexibility going forward. So there’s that.
But what about those shot assists that we talked about earlier?
Okay, there’s a lot happening here. But bear with us, we’re going to work through it together.
In a single term, the Phantoms’ power play with York on it was high event. What we’re seeing plotted are just York’s shot assists, not even every single shot that took place when he was on the ice, and we’ve got quite a few data points to have a look at.
The big takeaway is just how effective the team was, with York at the head, at funneling pucks towards the net for more dangerous scoring chances. We talked already about O’Reilly being a main target for his passes, and we see that reflected here, and we also see just how efficient O’Reilly was in taking those passes and turning them into dangerous chances—he put up seven individual scoring chances, and created through a primary shot assist 18 additional scoring chances, and no surprise, York factored into 14 (56 percent) of those. The Phantoms were running something of a shooting gallery on the power play, and much of their success was predicated on quick, decisive passing movement aimed to get opposing goalies moving and taking advantage of open space. York fit into that model pretty seamlessly with an aptitude for finding passing lanes through traffic, a willingness to fire the puck when he did see space to shoot open up, and even the added skill needed to dip lower in the zone and look for individual high danger chances, and keeping the unit from getting too static.
It was, if nothing else, quite a dynamic game that he was able to bring, and to have seen if working just about right off the bat is certainly impressive.
And, to wrap all of this up neatly with a bow, what is this all telling us? Certainly, the big takeaway is an affirmative answer to our initial question of “did York really impact the Phantoms’ power play that positively?” And this would be extra good news as we look forward to their next season, but the reality is that we also don’t really expect to see him spending much—if any—more time with the Phantoms.
So we turn our focus to the Flyers—we saw York get a brief look on the Flyers’ power play during his call-up, and he brought a distinct confidence, as well as some flashes of that dynamic passing game to that stint. And, in short, all of this should have us really excited about what York would be able to do given the chance to get in some more reps running an NHL power play. There have been some concerns over the years about his ability to run a power play at the professional level—he was good but not stellar, not consistently, at the junior and college levels, so that concern did seem founded. And while we’re admittedly working with a small sample here, what we have should leave us with a good deal of optimism.
York’s playmaking ability was translating well to the professional game in a 5-on-5 setting, and given the extra opportunity to run a power play, he’s taken that chance and run with it. The Phantoms went 7/31 on power plays in his eight games played, a respectable enough total, but York also was on the ice for six of those seven goals. He was driving offense on the power play at a pretty remarkable rate just about from the jump, and that’s hard to ignore. The question of sustainability is an open one, and it’s something that we’ll be keeping an eye on as we head into next season, but if nothing else York’s set a really strong foundation for himself, and may well be a useful reinforcement to a Flyers’ power play that struggled so mightily this season.