For the second straight year, the Flyers have selected a member of the vaunted U.S. National Team Development Program's under-18 squad with their first pick of the NHL Entry Draft. After selecting left winger Joel Farabee with the 14th overall pick last year in Dallas, the Flyers chose defenseman Cam York in the same spot at the 2019 Draft in Vancouver.
The Flyers originally held the 11th pick of the first round but traded the selection to the Arizona Coyotes for the 14th and 45th overall picks.
"When we got to the 11th pick, there were still three players in our top-10 [pre-Draft ranking]. We figured that, unless we got very unlucky, that at least one of them would be there for us at 14th. Cam was the top player on our list when we made the pick," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher.
Video: Flyers GM on Cameron York
York was the No. 1 defenseman on an ultra-stacked USNTDP squad, leading the team with a plus-44 rating while playing in all game situations and averaging more than a point per game. He was solid in the first half of the season and outstanding in the second half. By the end of the season, York had set a single-season point record for USNTDP defensemen.
Both Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr, who oversees scouting operations, said that York's combination of hockey IQ, poise and consistency are the backbone of his game.
"All of our guys feel good about the package of skills and smarts. I was talking to [Flyers amateur scout] Rick Pracey about this: I don't think I saw Cam have a single bad game in my viewings of him, and it was the same for Rick. York isn't big or very physical but he checks all the other boxes. He's got good feet, very good on retrievals and starting breakouts, sound defense, good stick, good gaps, jumps into the play well and he's been able to play both ends of specialty teams," Flahr said.
Fletcher described York as a "modern-day defenseman" whose smallish frame (currently 5-foot-11, 175 pounds) will not be a significant hindrance, although he will need to add some muscle over the next couple years.
In York's case, the projection is that his point-producing ability against junior competition will translate down the road to the pro game as well. York lacks a booming shot but he has quickness and accuracy going for him.
"There's power-play upside, even maybe as a [first unit] quarterback," Fletcher said.
Video: Go through the Flyers first round at the NHL Draft
One of the Flyers' amateur scouts at the Draft said the California native's "defending is very underrated" because of all the attention that gets paid to his skills with the puck. As such, even if York doesn't hit his offensive ceiling, he still projects as a top four defenseman as a puck-mover who is defensively reliable.
Back home in Anaheim, York first learned to roller blade before switching to ice skating. His dad built him a roller rink in the backyard. York tried his hand at various sports but fell in love with ice hockey.
Before joining the USNTD, York was a standout for the famed Shattuck St. Mary's prep school hockey team in Fairbault, Minnesota. York said that the experience of living far away from his family's home in Anaheim at such a young age was a big adjustment for him but it benefited him as a student-athlete and as a person. Likewise, he felt that the USNTDP experience was very beneficial to his development.
"It's an unbelievable group of guys; great players and we were very close. To play with those guys definitely pushes you to be at your best. We had really good coaching, too. I mean, it's one of the best programs in the world, so it definitely helps your game," York said.
York said he patterns his game after Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly and other blueliners of similar style. For his part, York has a reputation for being cool and collected, both on and off the ice.
York turned 18 on January 5. He will attend the University of Michigan, beginning in the 2020 fall semester. He is unsure at this point of how many seasons of NCAA hockey he will play before turning pro.
"I'd like to play in the NHL as soon as possible, but we'll see what happens," York said. "I'll do whatever they feel is best for me."