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Is Cam York the NHL’s Most Underrated Defenseman?



Cam York
Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Cam York has left an impression on everyone with his stalwart performances this season. (Photo: AP)

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Philadelphia Flyers are fighting for a playoff spot for two reasons: players taking one or multiple steps forward, and young players adding an influx of talent into the Flyers’ lineup. Defenseman Cam York, playing in his first full season in the NHL, falls under both categories.

York, now the Flyers’ de facto No. 1 defender, failed to make the NHL roster out of training camp last year. He’d spent the first quarter of the 2022-23 season in the AHL playing for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms before eventually making the jump to the NHL.

Before long, the Flyers’ blueline was his. The Ivan Provorov trade would signal that the keys were turned over, and that York was now in charge of the operation on defense.

“Cam York had a tough training camp,” Flyers general manager Danny Briere said in the summer. “He went down, put his time in in the minors, really came back rejuvenated, and was a great player for us. He’s obviously an important part of the future for the Flyers.”

Important is an understatement.

Very few defensemen in the NHL are at York’s age playing the minutes that he gets whilst also having success doing so. York currently averages 21:55 a night for the Flyers; there’s only five players aged 23 or younger averaging more minutes right now. They are:

  • Moritz Seider, 22
  • Brock Faber, 21
  • Rasmus Dahlin, 23
  • Jake Sanderson, 21
  • Owen Power, 21

York does not have the benefit of point production in those minutes, given that he plays for a rebuilding Flyers team that wields an inconsistent, low-octane offense most nights. The 23-year-old is still productive everywhere else, though.

Many people give Nick Seeler plaudits for his blocked shots totals, and rightfully so. Although York trails Seeler by nearly 50 blocks for most in the NHL, he’s still quietly 23rd in the league there. Seider and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Kaiden Guhle are the only players York’s age or younger with more blocks.

York was meant to be an offensive defenseman who would be the high-flying blueliner skating around setting up goals everywhere. It hasn’t happened yet, and nobody is concerned. Especially not Flyers head coach John Tortorella.

“I think he’s one of our best defenders. You guys keep talking about offense – I think he’s one of our best defenders,” Tortorella said after the Flyers’ shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues. “He can use his legs offensively. . . We want him up the ice. He has the legs that he’ll be able to play both ends.”

Clearly, Tortorella hasn’t seen the video of Flyers fans losing their marbles after the organization had passed on Cole Caufield in favor of York in 2019.

It’s not too common to find a shutdown defenseman at the age of 23, just one year removed from a lengthy stint in the minor leagues. But, Tortorella knows what he needs from defensemen, and he knows how to develop them, too.

Over the years, Tortorella has coached many standout rearguards. The 65-year-old had names like Dan Boyle and Pavel Kubina in Tampa Bay; Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Ryan McDonagh in New York, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski in Columbus, and now York and Jamie Drysdale in Philadelphia.

Staal, who played five seasons under Tortorella in New York before their reunion this season, knows what Tortorella wants from his defensemen better than most. In Staal’s assessment, so far, so good for York.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with him. I didn’t know much about him or his game coming here,” Staal said after a recent practice. “He’s had a fantastic year. I think he deserves more credit than he has been getting.

“Just his consistency and being so young, he doesn’t have very many off nights, which, as a defenseman, and as a young defenseman, that’s pretty impressive. Takes on the hard matchups, big minutes, blocks shots, defends well. He’s got a really bright future ahead of him. I’ve been really impressed.”

Staal has played over 1,000 games in the NHL, both with and away from Tortorella. Along his journey, the 37-year-old has been, at various points in time, teammates with some of the best defensemen to ever play the game. Would it be unfair to think York can reach the heights Drew Doughty and Kris Letang reached?

Staal doesn’t think it would be.

“He has the potential to be that impactful, for sure, and he is with our team already,” Staal remarked. “I think he’ll keep building on parts of his game as he goes, and it’s going to be exciting to see what he can do.”

York has already traveled a long way to become a No. 1 defenseman for the Flyers, and he has a long way to go before he’s finished growing as an NHL player. For a guy with very limited NHL experience, York’s performances this season have been nothing short of special, especially lately.

With Seeler out, York has blocked 15 shots in four games, averaging a staggering 24:42 in those games. The Michigan product is experiencing a playoff push at the NHL level for the very first time, and his game has turned up several notches.

In pro sports, these clutch players are called “gamers”.

Tortorella has said, more than once, that the most important part of the Flyers’ rebuild right now is for the young core players to play in meaningful games. York has played a massive part in giving these games meaning, and he’s going to make sure that the grind doesn’t stop there.

Next stop: playoffs.

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