Flyers analysis

‘Identity crisis' for Cates may be blessing in disguise

A difficult 2023-24 season reminded the Flyers' young forward about the foundation of his game

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Noah Cates went from Sean Couturier comparisons as a rookie to adversity as an NHL sophomore.

After playing all 82 games last season and receiving some Selke Trophy votes, Cates missed over a month and a half of this season and faced an "identity crisis" with his game.

But the positive for the Flyers is Cates is the type of player to make himself better because of it.

The 25-year-old had to deal with a broken foot that cost him 22 games and admitted to struggling with an enhanced focus on scoring. Last season, Cates earned his way at the NHL level by playing an effective 200-foot style, which led to promising point production (13 goals, 25 assists) in 17:46 minutes per game.

Seemingly, his next step was more offense.

"There was a bit of an identity crisis, wanting to be offensive and build off a good year last year," Cates said in April at his end-of-the-season press conference. "I think I needed to build off of it even more defensively than offensively. I think it was a great learning experience this year for me, for the team kind of where we were at.

"But you can't stray too far from what you are, obviously I want to build on myself offensively, but at the end of the day, defense leads to offense. For me personally, that's especially true."

Cates finished this season with six goals and 12 assists in 59 games. He played 13:48 minutes per game and had a minus-8 rating.

"Just kind of an identity crisis and then some confidence stuff, some injuries," Cates said. "Definitely just a year I'll look back on and I think it will help propel me to even higher levels just because of what I went through."

The Flyers have loved Cates' development from a 2017 fifth-round draft pick out of high school into an NHL player with great defensive smarts. They like that he can bounce between center and winger. But they'll need him and other young forwards to start defining their roles in the team's rebuild.

Three days after the Flyers' 2023-24 campaign officially fell short of the playoffs, Danny Briere mentioned Cates and Joel Farabee as two players that can be better next season.

"For me, I hope Farabee takes a step," the Flyers' general manager said in April. "I hope that Cates takes a step. I think both of these guys maybe didn't develop quite as much as I would have hoped for. I think there's more there with those two guys, they can take a bigger role on the team."

Next season, Cates will be in the final year of a two-year, $5.25 million contract. What he can take into the summer is how he played at the end of this season. In April, he led the Flyers with three goals and five points over seven games. He was opportunistic offensively and had that tough-to-play-against look to him.

"I think, at the end of the day, it kind of comes from the little things that my game is built on, whether it's being physical or a good stick, getting in on the forecheck," Cates said. "Just those little things that help you find your game. One goes in and then you kind of feel like you can't miss."

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