Cam York delivered a banner year in 2020-21.
He won a gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship as the U.S. captain, earned Big Ten Defenseman of the Year with Michigan and made his NHL debut in a Flyers jersey.
All at 20 years old.
General manager Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers want York pushing for a roster spot in September training camp. There's no doubt the Flyers are looking for and need help on their back end. They're coming off a letdown, playoff-less 2020-21 season in which the puck ended up in their net at an alarming clip.
Would it be surprising if York makes the Flyers to start next season and stays with them?
"I wouldn't be surprised because he can make the simple plays," Nate Leaman, the 2021 U.S. world juniors head coach and bench boss at Providence, said Wednesday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Part of the real positive side of Cam's game is he can make the simple play over and over and over again. And he can make some hard plays look simple.
"From my experience with him, he didn't try to do too much with the puck. He was never looking for the home run plays, he was always able to evaluate the smart, simple play in front of him and make it. At that level, if you can get the puck to the forwards with speed, that's a big asset."
In his three-game NHL appetizer at the end of the Flyers' season, York showed his quick and slick puck-moving ability. What stood out most was his highly touted poise. He's a cool customer and confident decision-maker, traits that are critical to being an NHL defenseman. There's little to no hesitation in his game.
In an ideal world, York will grow into the Flyers' top-unit power play quarterback. The jury is still out on Ivan Provorov in that role and the 24-year-old workhorse already does enough as it is for the Flyers. York leading the first unit and Provorov manning the second could be the Flyers' long-term vision.
"He's a smart player, skates extremely well, has the vision, moves the puck well," Provorov said earlier this month about York. "This is where the game's going — you have to be able to skate, you have to be able to move the puck, and he's got all the tools. For him, hopefully he gets bigger and stronger in the summer. I think he'll have a chance of sticking around for the whole year next year."
York, the Flyers' 2019 first-round draft pick, opened eyes on the national stage in January. Leading the U.S. to a gold medal, York put up six points (one goal, five assists) and a plus-4 rating over seven games in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship tournament.
"His poise with the puck, his ability to read pressure on breakouts and make the right decisions," Leaman said about what stood out in York's game. "He was great in all facets — he was great on the power play, he was great on the penalty kill, he was great 5-on-5. He led our defensive core in minutes for the tournament, so he was very usable. I thought he had great poise, he was really good in all situations."
After his banner year, York's next challenge will be Flyers training camp. The prospect will try to show he can be an immediate factor to the team cutting down its NHL-worst 3.52 goals allowed per game from this season.
"He's a guy that can make the right decision under pressure, particularly on his breakouts," Leaman said. "The game's hard now, defensemen have hard pressure coming at them all the time on breakouts. The ability to make those quick decisions to get the puck to your forwards with speed is really a big asset in the game. That's one of his strengths."
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