Cam York’s career holds so much promise, the Flyers believe he’s ready to play in the NHL in the very near future, regardless of the team’s playoff contention status.
The 20-year-old defenseman, a first-round (14th overall) pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, not only served as captain of the World Junior Championships U.S. national gold-medal winning team, but also has led the University of Michigan to strong NCAA contention.
York recently signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Flyers and will begin his professional career with the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
But during a media Zoom call from Uniondale, N.Y. on Saturday afternoon, general manager Chuck Fletcher said York is likely to join the Flyers at some point in the final 21 games.
“He’s going to start at Lehigh Valley,’’ Fletcher said. “We’ll get him some games down there. We’ll take things a day at a time. We’ll see how our season progresses. But absolutely he can play some games (with the Flyers).’’
Does that mean even York could play if the Flyers are either in or out of contention?
“I think it can happen in either scenario,’’ Fletcher said. “He’s a good hockey player. We want to give him a chance to get some games. He hasn’t skated in a while.
“At this stage, you want to be fair to him and give him a chance to be successful. But he certainly has the talent and intelligence to play at the NHL level.’’
Scouts agree York’s talent is undeniable.
“Cam is a really good two-way defenseman,’’ Fletcher said. “He’s a smart defender, has a very good stick. Probably most importantly, he excels at getting you out of your zone and getting you up the ice. . .he moves the puck really well.
“He’s strong on retrievals and a guy inside the offensive zone that can move the puck and see the ice. He has the ability to play the power play.’’
York stands only about six-feet and is listed around 180 pounds but when you have those kinds of skills, size is not a big deal.
“He’s one of the modern-era defensemen we’ve seen so many of enter the NHL over the last decade,’’ Fletcher said. “The six-foot defenseman that can make plays and move the puck and get you down to the offensive zone.’’
This sort of rapid advancement isn’t unique to the Flyers’ system. Ivan Provorov began playing for the Flyers when he was just 19 years old.
Usually when a college season ends, there might be only a handful of games left on the Flyers’ schedule to possibly enter.
But with the pandemic and the late start, the season won’t end until approximately May 10. So with more than 20 games left, it offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity.
“As for this year and my conversations with Cam, it’s a unique year,’’ Fletcher said. “We’re playing into the middle of May, the regular season. Normally when these kids sign out of college, they might get a handful of regular-season games prior to the summer break.
“This year, we have over 20 games left in Lehigh Valley, 20 games left in the NHL. So it’s an opportunity for him to get some games, get some experience and get ready for next year’s training camp.’’
If not for a COVID outbreak on the Michigan team, the Wolverines might still be in NCAA postseason action. They were scheduled to play Minnesota-Duluth when a couple Michigan players tested positive and the game was called off.
That was frustrating for York, a sophomore, and his teammates to say the least.
“It was very unfortunate the way my Michigan career ended for me,’’ York said. “It’s not how I wanted it to end. We had a really good chance of winning a championship. That’s what I went there to do.
“It wasn’t meant to be. But I felt I was ready for the next challenge. College games were getting to the point where they were a little too easy for me.’’
The success at the WJC, in particular the 2-0 win over Canada in the gold-medal game, should prove helpful in developing his leadership skills.
“It was really good for me,’’ York said. “It’s a position I hadn’t been in for a long time. But I always feel like I’ve had those leadership skills.
“To get that role on such a big stage, it was definitely a learning experience. I felt like I handled it well. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.’’
Added Fletcher: “I thought that game against Canada, they (the Americans) really rose to the occasion. Canada had arguably a bit more skill than the U.S. But the Americans played tremendously and that was maybe one of Cam’s best games I’ve ever seen him play. He really showed a lot of emotion in his game. He really took charge for Team USA in that game.’’
York made big strides since he was drafted by the Flyers less than two years ago.
“Offensively, I feel I’ve always had the skill to put up pretty good numbers,’’ York said. “But for me this offseason I spent a lot of time in the gym. I wanted to physically get a lot stronger. Bulk up a little bit.
“I’m just not very easy to play against even though I’m not the biggest guy. I find ways to get the puck in and out of my zone. I wanted to improve my defensive game and I felt like I did that.’’
>Laczynski set to make NHL debut
Forward Tanner Laczynski, a sixth-round (169th pick) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, was called up from the taxi squad Saturday afternoon and was set to make his NHL debut on Saturday night against the Islanders.
Also returning from the taxi squad was defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
Coach Alain Vigneault shuffled his lines for the Islander game. Laczynski was put on a line with Oskar Lindblom and Nic Aube-Kubel. Scott Laughton and Nolan Patrick were centered by Kevin Hayes. Sean Couturier played pivot for James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee. And Claude Giroux centered Jake Voracek and Travis Konecny. Gostisbehere was paired with Samuel Morin.