It has been a whirlwind year for Cam York, the young, California-raised defenseman who seems destined to be a big part of the Flyers’ future.
Maybe as soon as the 2021-22 season.
In a four-month period, the smooth-skating York captained Team USA to a stunning win over Canada to capture the World Junior championship; starred as a University of Michigan sophomore and was named the Big Ten’s defenseman of the year; signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Flyers; scored his first professional goal while playing for the AHL’s Phantoms; and made a smooth NHL debut with the Flyers.
Other than that, not much happened to a player who will be given a chance to stick with the Flyers during training camp in September.
“It was crazy, a year that I’ll never forget, for sure,” York, 20, said recently from his home in Anaheim Hill, Calif. “There were a lot of ups and downs, but I felt like I was mentally tough and stayed with it and ended up having a pretty good year.”
The biggest “down” was when second-seeded Michigan traveled to Fargo, N.D., to play in the NCAA Tournament but had some players test positive for COVID-19. Michigan thus was removed from the tournament the morning it was scheduled to face two-time defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth.
“It was unfortunate, but it is what it is,” York said.
Impressive with the Phantoms
York played eight games for the Phantoms, collected five points (two goals, three assists), and received great reviews from Scott Gordon, the Lehigh Valley coach at the time. Then came a three-game stint with the Flyers in which he showed poise and looked comfortable directing the power play.
“Each game I felt like I learned many things — things that I can take into the summer and say, ‘I need to work on this, or I need to work on that,’ ” York said. “That goes a long way. I felt like I played well and I know I belong and can play at that level. I’m looking forward to next year to see where I’m at. I’m excited. There’s a lot of good things to come here.”
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault liked what he saw.
“The young man is a very good skater, smooth on his feet. Had the ability to beat the first forechecker and make a good pass, so good for him,” Vigneault said after the left-handed York’s debut.
From his short stay with the Flyers, York, a first-round selection in 2019, learned he has to get stronger over the summer.
“I also want to work on things I feel I’m good at, but want to get better at,” said the 5-foot-11 1/2, 185-pound York. “I feel my ability to break the puck out is really good, but I want to continue to work at that and get better at it. ... and work on making the right reads on the power play. Lots of little things, but they add up.”
The redheaded defenseman said he doesn’t want to add weight this summer because it would take away from one of his best assets: his speed.
“You have to realize what your strengths are, and for me, it’s my skating ability and agility,” he said. “Guys who are 200 pounds sometimes don’t have that. With my skating ability, I feel like I’m at my best when I’m around the weight I am. I’m just going to continue to get stronger and we’ll see where that goes.”
Trying to add strength
York is working out in the gym and skating after taking a few weeks off to let some minor injuries heal. He is excited about a rookie camp that will be held at a still-unknown date late in the summer in Voorhees, and about September’s training camp, which will determine if he will start the season with the Flyers.
He thinks he can earn a spot. The defense is expected to undergo major changes before the season starts. A top-pairing defenseman figures to be added through a trade or free agency, and one defenseman (Shayne Gostisbehere? Robert Hagg?) might be lost in the July 21 expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken.
Even if the Flyers don’t lose a defenseman to Seattle, York could still win a spot.
“It’s obviously not going to be easy,” York said about his chances of starting the season with the Flyers. “There are guys trying to provide for their families that don’t want me to take their roster spot, but I’m going to do everything I can to put myself in that position. I feel like I have the ability; it’s just going to be a matter of me being ready to work every single day from the start. I do feel I can make it, but it won’t be easy by any means.”
In the 2019 draft, York was selected 14th overall — one spot ahead of highly regarded Cole Caufield, a diminutive but talented right winger who scored four goals against heavily favored Vegas in the recent Stanley Cup semifinals, helping Montreal reach the Final. Many fans wanted the Flyers to draft the explosive Caufield, but York says he doesn’t feel any extra pressure to perform because of it.
“It’s not like I watch him like a hawk,” York said when asked if seeing Caufield perform well in the playoffs motivated him. “We’re different positions and it’s hard to compare.”
The Flyers’ brass isn’t concerned about Caufield. They care only about York’s development, and, so far, he looks like the real deal.