It’s no secret the Flyers are already looking ahead to next season and for proof, just look at the youngsters they’ve been auditioning.
The recent newbies include Tanner Laczynski, Wade Allison and, beginning Friday night, center Jackson Cates.
Cates, an undrafted free agent who signed a two-year, $1.85-million entry-level contract on April 13, was slated to center a line of Oskar Lindblom and Nicolas Aube-Kubel when the Flyers took on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
The 23-year-old Stillwater, Minnesota native just completed his career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, which reached the Frozen Four this past season.
Jackson is the second Cates family member to join the Flyers. His younger brother, Noah, was a fifth-round (137th overall) selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Making the jump straight from college to the NHL is fairly uncommon but, like the 23-year-old Allison (a Western Michigan University product), it’s a little easier at 23 than, say, 20, as Joel Farabee did last season.
“I’m just trying to stay calm,’’ said Cates in a pre-game media Zoom call from Madison Square Garden. “Focus on what I can control, just play my game, that’s all I can do at this point. I’m very excited.’’
Talent evaluators have compared Cates’s game to that of Flyers veteran Scott Laughton, who is known for his strong two-way play.
“It makes me feel good to be compared to anybody in this league,’’ Cates said. “I’m a 200-foot player, smart on both sides of the puck and have that good awareness on the ice.’’
Cates, 6-foot-0, 175 pounds, attended the Flyers’ development camp two years ago.
“I knew it was a great organization,’’ Cates said. “They took great interest in me. I’m very happy to be here.’’
In addition, Noah gave the Flyers a good recommendation.
“He helped me know them and them know me,’’ said Jackson. “But at the end of the day, we have to focus on what’s best for ourselves. I thought this is the best place for me and he obviously stayed another year in college (also UMD). I’m excited to see where it takes the both of us.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault didn’t want to put too much pressure on Cates. MSG can be an intimidating place.
“You want a new player to enjoy his first game and go out there and do what he does best,’’ Vigneault said after getting a scouting report from Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. “I saw him a couple times when he was practicing with the taxi squad.
“He’s a hard-working two-way player.’’
To make room for Cates, Vigneault decided to give Nolan Patrick the night off.
More young candidates could be on their way, be it the end of this season or the start of the next, including recently signed defenseman Cam York. Other possibilities include Connor Bunnaman, Carsen Twarynski, Maxsim Sushko, Linus Sandin and Morgan Frost, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.