Flyers will not place yield signs on speed of York's climb to NHL

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Cam York wanted his next challenge.

First up is the AHL. The NHL doesn't sound far down the line.

Following his sophomore season at Michigan, the Flyers' 2019 first-round draft pick signed his three-year entry-level contract Wednesday night. The deal begins this season as the 20-year-old York will report to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and soon begin his professional career.

If all goes well, could York even get a taste of the NHL this season?

“Absolutely," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Saturday. "He’s going to start in Lehigh Valley, we’ll get him some games down there, let him get some experience at the professional level with Lehigh Valley. And we’ll just take things a day at a time. Obviously we’ll see how our season progresses, we’ll see how he does, but absolutely he could play some games.

“In my conversations with Cam, it’s a unique year in that we’re playing into the middle of May with 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, we have about 20 games left in the NHL. It’s an opportunity for him to really get some games, get some experience and get ready for next year’s training camp.”

With 20 games remaining in their shortened, 56-game regular season, the 17-14-5 Flyers entered Sunday four points out of a playoff spot. To make the postseason, they'll need to catch the Bruins, who have two games in hand on the Flyers. They'll also have to fend off the Rangers, who have the same number of points as the Flyers but have played one more game.

York's play will decide if he gets a chance with the Flyers this season, but Fletcher did not rule out the defenseman joining the club if it's still in a playoff race and playing meaningful games.

"It could happen in either scenario," Fletcher said.

"We’ll see how our season plays out and how he adapts down there. He certainly has the talent and the intelligence to play at the NHL level.”

York is an impressive blueliner with prolific offensive ability and smarts defensively. Outside of goalies, defensemen can tend to take the longest to translate to the NHL level, behind centers and then wingers.

There are exceptions, though, and York looks like one of them. But the main purpose of York's pro experience now is to prepare for next season. He'll be vying for the Flyers' roster in training camp ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

"It’s not a race, he’s a very mature player for his age; he just turned 20," Fletcher said. "He’s a young man that excelled at college and does a lot of things well. For me, it’s just more about getting some playing reps. Really, we need Cam to be a good player for us next year, we want him to challenge and push for a spot on our roster. So, really, the focus right now is just about getting him that opportunity to see for himself how he fits and the areas that he may need to work on and it’ll just be a great learning experience for him.”

Mobility and being a step ahead at both ends of the rink are trademarks to York's game. Prior to his sophomore season, York added muscle and set himself up for a strong year. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound York won a gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship as the U.S. captain and earned Big Ten Defenseman of the Year. He recorded 20 points (four goals, 16 assists), a plus-13 rating and 32 blocked shots in 24 games with Michigan this season.

“I feel like I have a really good stick and I don’t necessarily use my body a lot, like I’m not gonna lay guys out, but I’m able to skate with the best of them and use my stick really effectively," York said Saturday. "I feel like that’s how I’m able to just break up plays really quickly and get the puck in our forwards’ hands so they can go do their thing.

"I feel like offensively, I’ve always had that, I’ve had the skill to put up pretty good numbers. But for me defensively, this offseason I spent a lot of time in the gym, I wanted to physically get a lot stronger and bulk up a little bit. I think that helped me a little bit defensively. I feel like I have a really good stick and 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 this year.”

After Michigan had to bow out of the 16-team 2021 NCAA championship tournament last week because of positive COVID-19 test results within the Wolverines' tier I testing group, the next step for York became pro hockey.

“It was pretty unfortunate the way that my Michigan career ended for me," York said. "It’s not how I wanted it to end; we had a really good chance at winning a championship and that’s what I went there to do. Unfortunately it just didn’t pan out and wasn’t meant to be.

“But I felt like I was ready for the next challenge. College was getting to the point where games were a little bit too easy for me I think. I really want to challenge myself and the AHL and the NHL are both really good leagues and they’ve got a lot of really good players in them. I’m just looking forward to that challenge now.”

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