John Wroblewski

How Flyers prospect Cam York can help and torture goalies

How Flyers prospect Cam York can help and torture goalies

NHL talent evaluators couldn't miss Cam York's offensive exploits.

The catch-me-if-you-can defenseman lit up score sheets and caught all eyes during his draft year. When a teenage blueliner skates as smoothly and handles the puck as dynamically as York does, pro clubs watch in bunches and envision big things for the future.

Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said the team's entire scouting staff had seen York 10 to 15 times during the 2018-19 season. The Flyers then drafted York at No. 14 overall last summer after he set a U.S. national team development program single-season record with 65 points (14 goals, 51 assists) in 63 games.

For John Wroblewski, the head coach of the loaded USNTDP under-18 squad that year, he didn't want NHL suitors hypnotized by just the offensive gifts.

He emphasized York's defensive strengths.

"One of the things I kept telling scouts that I was so impressed with Cam was how the game was always in front of him," Wroblewski said last month in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "The puck hardly ever advanced behind him, you couldn’t beat him 1-on-1 — I could probably count on one hand how many times he got actually beat 1-on-1 over two years — and his strength around the net; he just understands.

"He has innate defensive ability, it’s natural. It seems effortless. Some guys you know they’re competing in their defensive zone and they have to, they scratch and claw — he just always has the right spots. His gap control, his stick detail, it’s all organic.

"I think he’s going to be rock-solid offensively in the NHL, but his prowess will be how reliable he is defensively. Working around him and watching his video on a daily basis, he never got beat." 

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

York is now with Michigan and his upcoming sophomore year could be his last at the collegiate level. Because of two impressive years in the USNTDP, he went to the draft and Ann Arbor with hype.

"I think if you asked him, he would want to turn pro tomorrow," Flahr said after the Flyers drafted York. "He's going to a good program at Michigan, we'll take it year by year. I don't see him as a four-year guy, let's put it that way."

In 2018-19, York was the go-to defenseman on a U.S. team that produced eight first-round draft picks last June — Jack Hughes (No. 1), Alex Turcotte (No. 5), Trevor Zegras (No. 9), Matthew Boldy (No. 12), Spencer Knight (No. 13), York (No. 14), Cole Caufield (No. 15) and John Beecher (No. 30).

York, a 5-foot-11, 174-pound lefty shot, was third on the U.S. in assists (behind only Hughes and Zegras), fifth in points and sported a team-best plus-56 rating.

"He just hit the ground running at the program, he was such a student of the game, he’s smart in practice, his instincts were outstanding," Wroblewski, who led the U-17 team this season, said. "He never really hit any type of a speed bump throughout his two years with the program. He seamlessly went from being our top defenseman to running the power play for the U-18 team in February and beyond, and then of course he set defensive scoring records at the program.

"Really kind of a seamless two years, but a kid that never really took it for granted, either. He always showed up, he had a workmanlike attitude in regard to practice. He was like a pro from a young age — he showed up, did his job, low maintenance, but a fiery competitor at the same time."

Just how skilled and electric is he with the puck on his stick?

"It’s interesting, for as much talent as we had on that team, I think Cam might have been our best shootout guy," Wroblewski said. "We didn’t utilize him because of the star power that you had with those top-five scorers — Boldy, Zegras, Cole, Jack and Alex Turcotte. We never utilized him because this just doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’ve got that firepower up front, but he was probably our best shootout guy."

As a defenseman on that team.

"The things that he would do to our goalies and Spencer Knight, he would make them look silly with the edgework," Wroblewski said. "He looked like a video game the way that he could come in, carve his edges and then just like sling it underneath the crossbar. It was really cool to watch. I’d never seen anybody be able to create on the shootout like he did."

(Rena Laverty/USA Hockey)

In his freshman season at Michigan, York dealt with a pair of injuries but still put up 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) and a plus-9 mark through 30 games. The 19-year-old led the Wolverines in secondary assists (eight) and was third in blocked shots (54).

A healthy and stronger York as a sophomore will bring him closer to the Flyers. He'll play a ton of minutes — which is what he's shooting for at the pro ranks, as well — and an even bigger role on what should be a formidable 2020-21 Michigan team.

York's strength and developmental curve at the Division I level, especially next season, will determine how quickly he signs his entry-level contract.

“Defensemen are always going to take a little bit longer," Wroblewski said. "Goalies take the longest, defensemen are the next, you look at the middle of the ice, centermen, that’s next and then wingers transition the quickest to the NHL obviously.

“I think any opportunity, as long as he’s being challenged at the college level, he should stay. But I also appreciate the challenge of the American Hockey League. I know a lot of guys don’t want to go there, ride the bus, but after having worked in that league, that buffer zone between there and the NHL is very important and can be pivotal for defensemen and young players.

"You look at [Casey] Mittelstadt in Buffalo as an example of how college wasn’t challenging enough for him, the NHL might have been too much — that American League is a really, really, really pivotal spot for a lot of young players. ... It can be a huge tool and not one that prospects should be scared of or feel slighted if they end up there.”

But Wroblewski doesn't see York far down the ladder.

"Just from his past, the way that he came into the program, U-17 and was able to fit right in, and then really thrive at the U-18 level as an underager and then set the scoring records that he did," Wroblewski said. "He looks at home in the college game and displays the same offensive characteristics. A kid that truly appreciates keeping the puck out of his net first and then letting the offense come to him — those are characteristics that should prove worthy of him making a quick climb to the NHL.”

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Don't be surprised if Joel Farabee is in Flyers' 2019-20 opening night lineup

Don't be surprised if Joel Farabee is in Flyers' 2019-20 opening night lineup

There's not much to dislike about Joel Farabee.

NHL talent evaluators would be hard-pressed to find holes in his game when Farabee was coming up through the U.S. national team development program.

The speed, skill, precociousness, scoring acumen — all accentuated by a motor that John Wroblewski watched up close as one of Farabee's coaches in the USNTDP.

"You can just tell from the way that he plays that you're getting an unbelievable kid who works his butt off every shift and isn't going to go away," the U.S. under-18 head coach said last week in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "He just won't be denied. There was never a question from scouts as to any of that."

Those attributes are why Farabee has proven to be a quick climber. As a 17-year-old, he was a key piece to Wroblewski's 2017 U-18 IIHF World Junior Championship team that captured gold. Then, with Boston University this season, Farabee led the Terriers in goals and points over 37 games. Among the country's freshmen, his 17 markers were tied for second and his 36 points finished third.

Nine months after being drafted by the Flyers 14th overall, he is already turning pro. 

The American Hockey League would be Farabee's next rung on the ladder.

Or maybe not.

"If he needs some seasoning in Lehigh, that happens with a lot of really strong prospects, but it also wouldn't surprise me when the Flyers have him in their opening night lineup next October," Wroblewski said. "He gets on the ice and coaches love him. He does so many things and so quickly to gain the coach's trust. The puck advances when he's out there and his skill set is sneaky. … It won't be long in the American League if he does start there.

"I would be amazed if he wasn't in the NHL full-time by the end of next year."


(Christina Daly/NBC Sports Philadelphia)

When 2019 training camp rolls around in September, the 19-year-old goal-scoring winger will be aiming for the Flyers after signing his entry-level contract last week.

The Flyers are in search for help. They're finishing another season without playoff hockey and haven't won a series since 2012. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, they're 20th in the NHL with 2.74 goals per game. They've needed more forward depth and players with a shoot-first, goal-scoring mentality.

A rising Farabee is turning into an internal option for Chuck Fletcher, who will soon be entering his first offseason as Flyers general manager.

"He has a versatile skill set — he's got a speed game, he's gritty and he's skilled. Really a perfect player to scale up and down a lineup," Wroblewski said. "When the Flyers go to training camp and when he gets the call to play in the NHL, it might start off as a fourth-line player but he can scale down in your lineup and play that fourth-line role or he can move up into the middle lines and earn a coach's trust, that he's good enough to play on a top line, too.

"The puck just follows him and when he wants to advance it, it goes the direction he wants it to go in. His game is loud and he's electric and he's got a great stick, as well. He's a very unique prospect."

With any teenage prospect, a roadblock to the NHL can be size. Farabee is 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, and his wiriness didn't hold him back at the Division I level.

"If he has a slight frame, that could be a knock on him but he's hockey strong," Wroblewski said. "That's kind of a force that is a little bit misunderstood sometimes by people outside the game. You can have a slight frame, and as long as you've got that unbelievable balance and skating ability on your edges, it doesn't affect you to be light."

Especially when you're climbing like Farabee.

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An inside look at Jack Hughes, the top NHL draft prospect Flyers fans are craving

An inside look at Jack Hughes, the top NHL draft prospect Flyers fans are craving

Understandably, John Wroblewski had initial doubts.

Not necessarily about the player as much as the situation. Wroblewski was coaching the 2016-17 U.S. national U-18 team when the little brother of star defenseman Quinn Hughes tagged along for a skate.

That little brother was Jack Hughes and Wroblewski had yet to see him play.

"You sort of ask the questions, OK, well how often do you have a 15-year-old skating with a U-18 team and how good is the kid?" Wroblewski said.

The verdict?

"The answer is he's pretty good, he's pretty good," Wroblewski said with a laugh last Wednesday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "We've got to keep an eye on him. You get him out there and instantaneously he fits in and exceeds and then also enamors you — all three of these observationalist thought processes come to your senses in that hour and a half skate of this tiny, little kid who somehow comes out and impresses you so much within that short period of time.

"Not only with his skill level, but kind of how some of the great players out there, how they can make the game slow down or speed up at their will. It's tough to describe unless you've been around him."

Wroblewski has been around him a bunch, coaching Hughes for the second straight season in the U.S. national team development program. 

Unequivocally, he now knows all about the 17-year-old, a darting and dynamic center whose playmaking ability can cause motion sickness for opponents.

Before the start of 2018-19, Hughes was hardly a blip on the Flyers' radar. Not with the team signing James van Riemsdyk to bolster an experienced roster and take its biggest step since the 2011-12 season. The NHL draft was an afterthought.

Oh, how things have changed.

The Flyers entered the All-Star break at 19-23-6 and with more points (44) than only two other NHL teams — the Devils (43) and Senators (43). A startling shake-up within the front office and coaching staff became the messy byproduct of another slow start, this one the most impactful of them all.

Suddenly but inevitably, Hughes' name has permeated the fan base. He is widely considered the consensus No. 1 pick for the 2019 NHL draft.

And Flyers fans are astutely aware. 

The golden spot is in sight.


(AP Images)

Similar to any NHL draft, the climb of the top overall pick will be debated. Many will line Hughes up against past No. 1 selections — from Patrick Kane (2007) to Connor McDavid (2015) and fellow USNTDP product Auston Matthews (2016).

While Hughes is only 5-foot-10, 168 pounds and turns 18 just a month before the draft, Wroblewski sees him developing into a player of his own mold.

My belief is that he'll be in the NHL next year and there's really not a comparable. You're starting to see more and more of the hybrid type of player — guys that play with speed and skill. One of Jack's unique traits is that even though there are questions out there in regards to his size, he's a true center iceman and he will play in the middle and he will figure out a way to make it work. 

You throw him into the blender with wingers like Kane and [Johnny] Gaudreau, but then you have to put him in the middle of the ice, so he's got that speed like McDavid. He doesn't have McDavid's size, but he's got things that I think McDavid would be envious of, as well. 

There's a component here that I think has yet to be realized. Like his brother Quinn, young kids are going to look at him and want to be him as a player, sort of revolutionize the position that a quote, unquote undersized centerman can persevere and make it to be a superstar in the National Hockey League — because there's not a ton of them that have done that.

Wroblewski calls Hughes "manicured."

It's an excellent way to describe him. Hughes doesn't sound like a 17-year-old. He's well-spoken because he's well-groomed, unfazed by the hype of being the top-ranked 2019 draft prospect.

He credits much of his maturity and preparation to his "great support system," featuring his family and coaches.

His father Jim Hughes, mother Ellen Weinberg-Hughes and uncle Marty Hughes all played Division I hockey. His older brother Quinn was drafted seventh overall by the Canucks last summer and plays at Michigan, while his younger brother Luke is 15 years old and considered an up-and-coming talent.

"We've all kind of been through the ringer already," Hughes said last Tuesday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "I'm thankful to have them around me."

Wroblewski said the scouting presence this season for the Hughes-led U-18 team has been "overwhelming," but in a good sense.

"It's been nonstop, it's been relentless," Wroblewski said. "The scouting community — reporters doing articles or scouting prospects, [people] that do this for a living, and of course the NHL scouts — is all trying to decipher where do these guys fall in the pick of the litter. And I'll tell you, right behind Jack on this team, there's a slew of other players that are going to be right there with him in the National Hockey League."

For Hughes, the eyes on him are at an all-time high with the draft a little less than five months away.

Is he keen to the amplified attention?

"No, I've been dealing with that since I was 14, 15 years old," Hughes said. "A scout is pretty much another person in the building. All I have to do is play my game and have fun."

Like Wroblewski said, Hughes is manicured.

He gives you guys the clichés at times, but there's a little bit of twist to his cliché answers. There's insight there, it's not like he's just throwing out these random phrases. He's got practice at it, but he's not just going through the motions when he talks to the media, which gives me a lot of hope that he could be at that ultimate ambassador to the game. Not just a guy that goes through and plays excellent hockey and is a focal point, but somebody who is also attractive to the media. 

At the same time, when the cameras are away and he's not on the spotlight, he's a kid. He's a high school kid who is goofy and funny in the back of the bus — he's got personality, he's got swagger, he has a lot of the intangibles.


(AP Images)

There wasn't just one play or game that convinced Wroblewski.

"I don't think moments capture excellence," he said, "particularly with a kid that's going to go No. 1 overall in the draft."

The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in November 2017 was when Wroblewski really saw it. The U.S. had taken home gold by beating Canada, 6-4, in Dawson Creek, British Columbia.

Hughes led the field with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in six games.

"He just completely dominated the event — and then as the octane and the temperature rose in the tournament, he continued to surpass expectations and continued to dominate and find another level," Wroblewski said. "In a hostile environment — he was a kid who grew up a bit in Toronto wearing the American sweater, and all of a sudden he's thrust into this environment; it was such a pro-Canadian environment, and he allows himself to block out all the X-factors and just concentrate on dominating the game at hand. 

"That to me was kind of the time where I was like, 'This kid is No. 1.' I always had that throughout the fall, but from there on, it was like, 'This is the kid that's going No. 1 next year.'"

Hughes strives to be the entire package.

That doesn't mean he's there yet. However, the multifaceted, no-holes-in-your-game mindset is what pushes him.

"As a hockey player, everything you do you want to improve," Hughes said. "You see the best players in the world working on their game, year in and year out. For me, I focus on everything, but some of the things I focus on the most are my faceoffs and my shot. Those are two things that need to be really good to be a good player."

What about his strengths?

I play a new brand of hockey — speed and skill, the way the game is now.

I'm kind of an open book. There are a lot of great players out there and something that they all have in common is that they're Swiss Army knives. They can do everything really well. I feel like my game is what my game is, but I'm working on other parts of my game and trying to become the best at everything that I do.

I'm going to show up to the rink to compete and have fun.

In 28 games this season as the captain of the U.S. national U-18 team, Hughes has 56 points on 13 goals and 43 assists. In 60 combined games last season between the U-17 and U-18 teams, Hughes had 116 points on 40 goals and 76 assists.

"He's a workhorse on and off the ice," Wroblewski said. "He'll do whatever it takes. When he finds a deficiency in his game, or if there's something not at — if you want to scale things out of five — if there's something that's not at a five, he'll start working right away at getting to that number. 

"Last year, it was his shot. He did not have a very good shot. It was still good, but it wasn't elite. He went at it hard this summer, his one-timer, his release, everything else has improved so much in that regard. And that's something that I think he'll continue to do."


(AP Images)

The Twitter hashtag has grown in popularity for any struggling team near the NHL basement and in the ballpark of the 2019 draft's first overall slot.

#LoseForHughes.

Hughes isn't oblivious to the slogan in which many Flyers fans have adopted.

"The first time I heard it was actually my OHL draft year (2016-17)," he said with a laugh. "It's not new to me, but every time I see it, it's pretty funny and I get a little chuckle out of it."

How hard the Flyers charge after the All-Star break will determine their chances for Hughes, while the NHL draft lottery results will have the final say.

Whichever team does land Hughes, its fans will be on board with his message.

"I'd tell them I hope to give them a lot of good years," Hughes said. "That's what every player wants — they want to go to a city that's hungry to win and a city that's a lot of fun. That's really what I'd be excited about — have fun with the city and playing hockey for the community and the city, for however long I'm there."

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