Noah Cates grew into a defensive specialist last season with the Philadelphia Flyers.
He was conscientious and forceful defending the puck. His coaches and teammates trusted Cates, and their faith often was rewarded. Cates had the Philadelphia Flyers’ best plus-minus rating at plus-12.
“I force-fed him everything he could possibly eat last year and he handled himself very well,” Flyers coach John Tortorella said about the rookie who switched positions from left wing to center last season.
“The next step for Catesy is — we don’t need to teach him anymore. We don’t need to worry too much about him and his play away from the puck. He gets that.”
Cates enjoys his status as one of the Flyers’ top defenders. He often matched up with opponents’ top centermen.
“I know my game away from puck and defensively, what I can do,” Cates said. “I know that’s pretty solid, obviously.
“There are some things to work on. If you can play with the puck that’s the best defense you can play. I think that’s the next level, the next step that I can take, just add to this team.
“With the pieces coming back, and the skill, the younger guys and how we need to play, and kinda moving forward what I need to do.”
The next step, perhaps logically, is for Cates to improve his offensive output. He had 13 goals and 25 assists (38 points) in 82 games. The 24-year-old from Stillwater, Minn., was the Flyers’ 2017 fifth-round draft pick (137th overall). He is 6-foot-1, 165 pounds. He also played 16 games with the Flyers in 2021-22 (five goals, four assists, plus-4).
“Now he has to put some pressure on himself as far as the offensive part of the game without losing that part [defense] and he won’t,” Flyers coach John Tortorella said. “Put himself in the situation where he wants to create offense.
“If you know Noah, he’s been thinking about that from the get-go that he wants to be a complete player and put up points.
“A lot of people don’t talk about his offense. I think he had a good offensive year and how much I gave him as such a young guy that switched positions from wing to center at a National Hockey League team, a team that was struggling to find its way last year and going through the process and I still think he put up some pretty decent numbers.
“That’s the next step for him as far as I’m concerned.”
Techniques on Offense
Cates welcomes the opportunity to contribute on offense and knows how to get there.
“Not being as rushed, a little more patience is a big thing that he was saying,” Cates said. “I’d look back at some video through the year. A little more patience, a little more time and space than you think.
“Things happen fast in this league and sticks and lanes close off quickly. A little extra patience or poise with the puck can go a long way and can turn small plays into some scoring chances that will convert for you.”
With Sean Couturier’s return, the Flyers could have two top centers who can shut down opponents and make the team much deeper and versatile.
“Obviously exciting having him back, just kinda the tools he has — the size and everything,” Cates said. “Obviously he’s won a Selke [Trophy, as NHL’s best defensive forward]. That will help us.
“Faceoffs were big at the end of last year, [Couturier] kinda coming on the ice and helped us with that. And seeing that in the games this year and just his all-around game, the plays that he makes, his anticipations are obviously high end. He’s just the leader that we need.”
Cates won only a low 39.5 percent of faceoffs last season. He knows it’s an area of improvement.
“Talked to guys around the league that I skate with and I work out with,” Cates said. “Talking with guys that when I go up against them during the year what they were looking for.”
A year ago, Cates was battling to make the roster. There’s always pressure for a professional athlete to produce and succeed. Cates doesn’t feel the same kind of pressure this year.
“Obviously you still gotta make your mark and put yourself on this team. And earn it every day,” Cates said.
“I’m kinda knowing what the grind is like, going through a full season last year and kinda feeling a little bit more comfortable with the guys and coaching staff at these camps definitely help ease some, whether it’s anxiety or different things that you kinda felt last year.
“So you can feel a little more free and play and you have freedom to make some plays in the scrimmages or in the practices. Definitely feel a little better coming into this year, how you feel but you have to push it every day and push your teammates and be the best you can be.”