Name: Cam York
Team: USA Hockey National Team Development Program (USHL)
Stats: 28 games played, 7 goals, 26 assists, 33 points, 12 PIMs, +40 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 12th (North American Skaters)
Comparable NHL player: Keith Yandle
Quick Star Wars question for you. Who is the only Rebel Alliance pilot to have survived both attack runs on the Death Stars, first in the film now known as A New Hope and then again in Return of the Jedi?
If you guessed Wedge Antilles, you’d be correct. But if you don’t know who Wedge Antilles is, even if you actually watched both of those movies, that’s just fine too.
Wedge is a funny character in the Star Wars universe. Despite being a part of two of the single biggest moments in the franchise, with screen time and lines and everything, he was never more than a secondary character, always playing second fiddle to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and others.
Defenseman Cam York might relate a little bit to the character of Wedge Antilles.
The 2001 birthday class for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program has been a dominant scouting focus for the 2019 draft going all the way back to the 2017-18 season. Led by dynamic offensive forwards such as Jack Hughes, Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, and Matthew Boldy (who could all get selected within the first 10 picks this draft, with Hughes as the projected No. 1), the group ran roughshod over competition throughout this past season.
But there the whole time, playing just slightly outside the spotlight, was York. And you’d be incredibly hard-pressed to argue that he wasn’t an essential part of the enormous success of that 2001 NTDP class.
A little undersized for a defender and lacking elite skating ability, it’s easy to see why York didn’t draw as much spotlight as his teammates did. But for what he lacks in ability to make highlight-reel-generating plays, he more than makes up for with stringent consistency and effectiveness. He’s a possession-driving machine, always scanning the ice to know where he should be and reliably making the right decisions with the puck in his own zone, in transition and in the offensive zone.
Blessed with an abundance of smarts, puck skills, and poise, York was perfectly suited to quarterback the NTDP’s power play over the past two years, helping distribute the puck to Hughes and the rest of the dazzling forwards. Sure, some of York’s impressive scoring totals come from plays where his talented teammates did the brunt of the offensive damage, but York is an incredibly dangerous offensive player in his own right, thinking the play a couple of steps ahead and possessing the skills needed to make big things happen when it was his turn to do so.
When USA Hockey invited some of their under-17 group to last year’s IIHF U18s, York was the lone defender in the entourage, which also included Hughes, Turcotte, and Caufield. Not only did he make the team for that event, he played so well punching up that he was named to the tournament all-star team as an under-ager.
All that being said, however, playing on such a historically strong roster (considered by many experts as the best class the NTDP has produced so far, and possibly the best one for a long time) still leaves some question marks — both positive and negative ones.
There’s no doubt about the huge perks players get while being a part of the NTDP, having access to some of the best hockey staff and facilities in the world. And surely it’s impossible to be surrounded by so much on-ice talent your age and not soak up a wealth of experience and information (if you watch Hughes make a thousand passes you’re probably going to learn a thing or two about passing the puck). Being a part of the NTDP undeniably did wonders for York’s development as a prospect, something that was potentially hidden a bit since there was only one puck to go around for so many skilled players.
Where things get tricky, though, is that there are parts of York’s game that maybe haven’t fully been stress-tested yet. This NTDP team was just so good that they almost always had control of the puck, making life easier for individual members of the team, especially defensemen. After all, it’s much easier to defend your own zone when your forward teammates are skating circles in the offensive zone. It was a rare occurrence to see this team on the ropes with the pressure on and the ice tilted against them, situations that are especially tough on defenders. They’re occasionally inescapable in the NHL at best, and frustratingly persistent at worst.
Just how well does York handle situations like that? It’s a little tough to say. Maybe perfectly fine, or maybe not at all. If York played a lot of minutes on a weak team such as the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, would his defensive abilities be considered worrisome as fellow top draft-eligible defenseman Thomas Harley’s were exposed to be?
As stated above, York is an incredibly talented young player who pulled his own weight with the NTDP and was made better as a member of it. But is he Top 10 good? Top 15? Top 20? Top 30? That’s the big thing that NHL organizations (including the Dallas Stars) will need to determine, and opinions will likely vary.