By Ted Brown (@ThatGuy11920)
The Philadelphia Flyers selected left-handed Defenseman Cam York 14th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft. Many among the Flyers faithful were dismayed that the team passed on natural goal scorer Cole Caufield (myself included). In response, I went back and re-watched York’s draft season with a much closer eye. The goal is to examine his play over a relatively large sample size (20 USHL games) in order to glean some insight into why the Flyers ultimately went in the direction they did with the 14th overall pick.
Tracking data at 5v5 was observed and recorded. Based on Corey Sznajder’s All-Three Zones NHL tracking project, 20 of York’s USHL games were tracked. This includes: Exits, Forecheck Evasions, Entry Defense, Entries, 50/50 Battles, Shot Contributions, Offensive Production, Defensive Plays, Pass Completion%, Goals For%, & Shot Attempt Differential (i.e. Corsi For%).
The breakout is one of the most important aspects of hockey. Having the ability to consistently engineer clean zone exits (i.e. with possession) is an asset every team wants from their defensemen. A possession exit refers specifically to a skater either skating the puck out of the defensive zone with control or passing it to a teammate as they cross their defensive blueline. York averaged 1.85 Exit Carries, & 3.30 Exit Passes in the 20 USHL games tracked. 5 exits with possession per game is a solid rate. These types of plays are of paramount importance in keeping the puck as far away from the defensive zone as possible.
Forecheck evasions are simply a skater’s ability to evade forechecking pressure via a pass or by skating themselves free of forechecking pressure. York excels in evading forechecking pressure from my observations. He consistently shows poise under pressure and an innate ability to create space for himself in these situations. York regularly uses deception, fast and tight turns, dekes, creative stickhandling, & strong edgework to evade forecheckers. York also has an affinity for keeping his head up to see any potential open space to skate through or teammates to pass to.
York was targeted under forechecking pressure a total of 67 times vs. USHL teams. His evasion rate of 91.04% (61 evasions & 3.05 per game) is eye-opening. This is a skill that is translatable to the NHL game. Showing promise in his draft year is certainly worth noting. Forechecking pressure only forced York into giveaways 6 times (8.96% of the time).
Teams had a tendency to target York’s playing partner more often on offensive zone entries. For example, team’s only targeted York 4.55 times per game on zone entry attempts. York’s breakup to carry-ins allowed ratio was 2 to 1 (per game). More specifically, York’s Entry Breakup% was 46.15% and his Carry-Ins Allowed% was only 24.18%. York usually is aggressive on zone entry attempts by opposing forwards or defensemen. His backwards skating proficiency allows him to maintain tight gaps against transition rushes. York primarily breaks up entries with stick-checks. Disrupting entries against is another area where York reduces his defensive zone time.
Cam York put up respectable numbers via possession entries. It is important to keep in mind that the majority of the forwards on the U18 NTDP squad were the primary puck carriers on offensive zone entries. So, it is no surprise that York’s entry data isn’t as stellar as his exit data. For the most part, the defensemen for the NTDP were used as trailers on the rush. Unless there was obvious open space (and a forward was in position to cover for him), York would not lead the rush and would defer to his forwards. There was quite a bit of a “place and race” mentality that was put into practice. For instance, 32.84% of York’s entries were dump-ins. It is unclear if this was an emphasis of the coaching staff or if this was predominantly of York’s own volition.
York maintained possession or came away with the puck on 19 of 29 battles tracked. Coming away with the puck in contested situations is an area that is in need of some refinement. It’s not a matter of technique, it’s more one of strength. Some added lower body strength is needed to maintain a stronger hockey position (wide base, nose over the puck) in order to come away with the puck in battles. Fortunately, York choosing the college route post-draft will allow him the time needed to get stronger.
York is an asset in the offensive zone. He uses his teammates well and tends to defer to his team’s extremely talented forwards. Calculated aggressiveness is the name of the game for York. He picks his spots wisely and it was a rarity to see him turn over the puck in the offensive zone. York chipped in with 39 Primary Shot Assists, 31 Secondary Shot Assists, & 70 Total Shot Assists (3.50 Shot Assists Per Game). Pre-shot movement is a strength of York’s game and he assists his forwards by creating space for them with his stickhandling, drawing the opposition towards, him and through his use of deception. The cycle game in particular is an area where he shines.
York recorded 56 shot attempts (2.80 per game). His shot needs some tweaking. Getting shots on net can be a struggle and generating power and velocity more consistently is essential moving forward. From time to time he’d send in a howitzer but, more often than not, his shot would be lacking power. Some added strength should help him improve his shot.
York produced a lot of offense in my viewings. 17 points at 5v5 in 20 games is decent for a forward, let alone a defenseman. York scored 4 goals and added 13 assists in this 20 game sample. Furthermore, he had 9 primary points (4 goals and 5 primary assists). He acted more as a facilitator/distributor than a driver of offense. Which makes sense given the team he played for.
York is mostly known for his offensive skillset but he brings a lot of value to the table defensively. He racked up 83 defensive plays (4.15 per game). Defensive plays are used here when referring to: Stick-Checks, Takeaways, Hits forcing a loss of possession, and blocked passes. York’s anticipation ability led to quite a few defensive plays that shut down the oppositions offensive zone time, cycle game, etc. York’s active stick, tight gaps, reads, and recognition of assignment switches was on full display in every game. Defending came relatively easily to him as a result of his hockey sense. York infrequently found himself behind the flow of play. Staying one step ahead of play is more his speed.
One of the most essential fundamental skills in hockey is passing. York’s passing is one of the most consistent aspects of his game. Defensemen that can be relied upon to complete passes to their teammates are a prized asset. York certainly qualifies as such. For instance, he averaged 21.5 pass attempts per game and he completed 18.9 of those passes (on average).
To the surprise of no one who spent any period of time watching the 2018-2019 US NTDP squad, York was on the ice for far more goals for than goals against. In total, York was on ice for 49 goals at 5v5 and the NTDP scored 41 of those goals. To put it another way, York’s GF% was a whopping 83.67 and the goals for to goals against ratio was 2 to .4. He was out there for eight goals against and “maybe” one could be placed on York’s defensive play.
Similar to York’s bonkers GF% rate, his shot attempt differential was equally absurd (68.52 CF%). One game in twenty was below 50% (47.06), 16 games were 60% or above, and three games were 50-58%. Again, absurd. Some of these numbers can be directly attributed to the quality of his team/teammates but he was definitely a significant contributor to his team’s ice-tilting prowess. Little plays by York such as forecheck evasions, quick-ups, and setting clear passing lanes on exits all helped his team to advance play forward.
York is a rock of consistency. There was not one game out of the 20 games tracked that could be considered a poor showing. The vast majority of his shifts in each game can be categorized as good to great. Consistency is something that most prospects his age have to improve upon. In this case, he is ahead of the curve. Another feature of his game that sticks out regularly is his high-end hockey sense. York has a strong head for the game and he makes smart plays all over the ice.
York will be suiting up for the Michigan Wolverines for the foreseeable future. It’s expected that he will play a lot in all situations in order to facilitate both his team’s progress and his development as well. I’ll be keeping a close eye on his progress in putting some more strength on his frame, adding some more burst to his top speed, and developing his shot into a legitimate threat. When taking into account all of his current attributes (and limited flaws), it is not hard to assume that York will earn a spot on the Flyers roster in relatively short order.
Photo Credit: United States National Team Development Program