The 2020-21 Philadelphia Flyers season is a couple games away from officially being in the books. Despite what has been an overall disappointing campaign for the franchise and the fans, there have been positives here and there. One of those occurred Friday night when defenseman Cam York made his NHL debut against the Washington Capitals.
The 20-year-old was recently recalled, along with goalie Felix Sandstrom, from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL to the Flyers’ taxi squad. Philly head coach Alain Vigneault then announced York would play in his first game at Capital One Arena. York had put in a lot of work over his entire hockey journey in order to get to what was a pretty nice debut for him representing the Orange and Black. All of the dedication to the game built up to this accomplishment on Friday.
Earning His Opportunity
York was the first-round selection (14th overall) by the Flyers in the 2019 NHL Draft. He had developed his game at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a school with a hockey program known for recruiting some of the best in the sport such as Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Toews, and Zach Parise among others.
He then suited up for the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) playing in the United States Hockey League (USHL), another well-known team that helped mold careers of past and present NHL talents. York was able to experience two notable programs and learn as much as he could to continually develop and grow his game. Not many players are able to get those types of opportunities at programs like Shattuck-St. Mary’s or the USNTDP.
With that said, York took advantage of every opportunity he was given. He earned the chances to play for those programs, and his hard work paid off as he was considered a high-end prospect in 2019 by scouts and media websites. He would be a potential weapon down the road for any team that would have drafted him, and Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher saw what he could potentially bring to the organization and took him 14th overall.
Following his selection in the draft, York continued working on his game by going to the NCAA and committing with the Michigan Wolverines. In two campaigns with the program, he posted the following numbers:
- 2019-20: five goals and 11 assists for 16 points in 30 games
- 2020-21: four goals and 16 assists for 20 points in 24 games
In total, York tallied nine goals and 27 assists for 36 points in 54 games with Michigan.
Fletcher and the Flyers then officially inked York to a three-year, entry-level deal at the end of March of this year, and he had a very short stint in the AHL with Lehigh Valley. In six games played with the Phantoms, he was almost a point-per-game player with two goals and three assists for five points.
Different factors played a role in York getting this recall to the taxi squad followed by his NHL debut. One of the deciding parts of this dealt with Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere getting handed a two-game suspension for boarding Pittsburgh Penguins’ (and former Flyer) Mark Friedman. Everything aligned for Cam to get his first taste of hockey representing the City of Brotherly Love.
His First NHL Game
York was paired with veteran defender Justin Braun in his debut, who has played more than 700 games in his career. He did not look out of place to start the game. If he was nervous at all during the first period, it was not noticeable. The Flyers were the first ones to get on the board thanks to Joel Farabee right in the beginning of the contest.
The first big moment Cam was part of could’ve been costly for Philadelphia, however. He was on the ice when there was Capitals traffic in the crease with Flyers goalie Brian Elliott. Braun did what he could physically to cancel out any play within the blue paint, but Washington forward Daniel Sprong managed to get the puck into the net. The good news for the Flyers, though, was that he did this by kicking the puck into the net, and it was waived off, keeping the score 1-0.
Looking at York’s game specifically, he put his strengths on display, proving why he was a highly-touted prospect in 2019. He was very quick and smooth on the ice with his skating and had solid puck possession. He also showed that he is not afraid to jump into the play and become a part of the offense. His hand-eye coordination is pretty accurate as well, as he did a nice job gloving down a pass midair in the first period.
In the second period, the Flyers received the first power play of the game. Vigneault trusted York enough to put him on the first unit out there, quarterbacking the power play. They did not score on that try, but it was good on Vigneault’s part to get Cam experience with other veterans like Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny throughout the night.
York’s speed and stick handling continued to benefit for Philadelphia in the second. Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov tried to catch up with Cam to grab the puck from him and ended up hooking him, leading to another Flyers power play opportunity. They did not tally on this attempt either, but they did have multiple chances to make the score 3-1. York just seemed to click well with the offensive pieces on the ice with him. He looked like he had been playing on the team for years as opposed to this being his first game based on the connection he seemed to have with his teammates.
It was not all positive through the first two periods, though. With a little over a minute left in the second, Washington winger T.J. Oshie gained a prime opportunity near the Philadelphia net, and took full advantage to cut the Flyers’ lead in half and make it 3-2. York was not able to get over and stop Oshie in time based on where they both were on the ice at that moment, as Oshie redirected a Brenden Dillon shot in to give the Capitals more life heading into the third period. York was caught in a rough spot and he learned a lesson the hard way on that play.
In the end, the Flyers were able to claim victory with a 4-2 score. Another player who made his league debut earlier this season, Wade Allison, looked strong with a two-goal night, which included the game-winning goal for the Flyers. Elliott stopped 28 out of 30 shots, and York looked like he fit right in with the rest of the squad.
York finished Friday night with a shot on goal, one takeaway, and over twenty minutes of ice-time that included more than two minutes of power-play time. He showed everyone the start of what his potential can be in the NHL, and he handled his first game well. He did not look nervous at all, and put his skills on display for Flyers fans and the rest of the hockey world to see. It was a big accomplishment he worked his entire life for, and it is one of possibly many more milestones to come.
I have been a hockey fan for most of my life, and have played the game myself for more than six years. I graduated from the State University of New York at Oswego in 2018, with a bachelor’s in Broadcasting & Mass Communication. Previous positions held include being a Sports Analyst for Oswego’s student-run TV station, WTOP-10; News/Sports Intern for WIVB-TV Channel 4; and Sports Beat Writer Intern for Pro Player Insiders.