Michigan Wolverines

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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Villanova routed by Michigan in national championship rematch

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Villanova routed by Michigan in national championship rematch

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Charles Matthews set the tone with a slam and celebrated by flexing to the crowd.

Quickly, the rematch turned into a rout.

Matthews scored 19 points, Ignas Brazdeikis had 18 and No. 18 Michigan beat No. 8 Villanova 73-46 Wednesday night in their first meeting since last season's national championship game.

Villanova captured its second title in three years with a 79-62 victory over Michigan in April but was completely overmatched in the second game at its newly renovated Pavilion.

"I don't think when I'm out there," Matthews said, explaining his emotional reaction to a basket less than 90 seconds into the game. "It was a fun, exciting game. I got the dunk and I screamed."

Eric Paschall scored 10 points and Phil Booth had nine for the Wildcats (2-1).

The Wolverines (3-0) jumped ahead early and never let up. They led 10-2 less than five minutes in and expanded the lead to 22-8 on Matthews' jumper midway through the opening half. A 17-3 run followed, giving Michigan a 39-13 lead. Matthews' dunk and consecutive 3-pointers from Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole highlighted the run.

Matthews capped the impressive first half with a steal and layup to send Michigan to the locker room with a 44-17 lead.

"I'm very impressed with Michigan," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Really like their team, great togetherness, great execution. It's my fault I'm running a lot of guys out there. We're not as organized as we want to be. We're trying to figure out a lineup early in the season. We didn't have the cohesiveness to play a good team like that."

Villanova's frustration was evident after Michigan's Zavier Simpson's flagrant foul led to a brief scuffle with Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree near midcourt with 13 minutes remaining and Michigan leading 52-24.

The Wildcats couldn't make any push in the second half, and fans hit the road early.

"They executed way better than we were prepared to play defense," Booth said.

Neither team looked like the two squads who met in San Antonio seven months ago.

Villanova lost four players who were drafted in the first 33 picks of the NBA draft. AP Player of the Year Jalen Brunson plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Omari Spellman is with the Atlanta Hawks. Mikal Bridges landed in Phoenix after a draft-night trade with the 76ers, and Donte DiVincenzo — who scored 31 points in the title game — is with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Michigan lost three of its top four scorers. Moe Wagner, the star big man, was drafted by the Lakers in the first round and is playing in Germany. Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman graduated.

"They're a young team and they lost a lot of people," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "This is a November win. That's all it is. We have to learn from it, forget it and get ready for our next game."

Impressive freshman
Brazdeikis' teammates love his attitude and confidence on the floor.

"Iggy is like a mean pit bull," Simpson said.

The Finn
Bill Finneran, the Villanova alum who was the lead donor for the school's on-campus court that underwent a $65 million face-lift, was honored at halftime.

"The worst game you're going to see here," Finneran told the crowd.

Big picture
Michigan: Brazdeikis showed he can score against tough competition, performing well against top defender Paschall. Brazdeikis and Matthews give the Wolverines a formidable wing duo going forward.

Villanova: Showed its youth, giving Wright plenty of teaching points. The Wildcats relied on 3s the first two games, taking more shot attempts from beyond the arc than inside. They couldn't get them to fall from long range, going 3 for 15.

Up next
Michigan hosts George Washington on Saturday.

Villanova hosts Furman on Saturday.

Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova storm past Michigan for national title

Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova storm past Michigan for national title

BOX SCORE

SAN ANTONIO -- They chanted his name from the cheap seats: "Di-Vin-cen-zo, Di-Vin-cen-zo." By the time Donte DiVincenzo was done doing his damage, Villanova had another title and college basketball had its newest star.

The redhead kid with the nickname Big Ragu came off the bench to score 31 points Monday and lift `Nova to another blowout tournament victory -- this time 79-62 over Michigan for its second title in three seasons.

The sophomore guard had 12 points and an assist during a first-half run to help the Wildcats (36-4) pull ahead, then scored nine straight for Villanova midway through the second to put the game away. He capped it with a 3-pointer from a step behind the arc that he celebrated with a knowing wink over to TV announcers Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery on the sideline.

Villanova won all six games by double digits over this tournament run, joining Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001) and North Carolina (2009) in that rare air.

"I thought we played our best game in the championship game," coach Jay Wright said.

The last team to win its two Final Four games by 16 or more: UCLA in 1968. During the dynasty.

One key question: Does Wright's team belong on the list of the best of all-time?

Maybe so, considering the way Villanova dismantled everyone in front of it in a tournament that was dripping with upsets, underdogs and at least the appearance of parity.

Maybe so, considering the Wildcats won in seemingly every way imaginable. This victory came two nights after they set a Final Four record with 18 3-pointers, and one week after they relied more on defense in a win over Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.

That debate's for later.

DiVincenzo squashed any questions about this game with a 10-for-15 shooting night -- 5 for 7 from 3 --that was really better than that, making him an easy winner for most outstanding player in the Final Four.

With Michigan refusing to go away early in the second half, he opened his game-sealing run with an around-the-back dribble to get to the hoop and get fouled. On the other end, he delivered a two-handed rejection of Michigan's Charles Matthews -- his second block of the game -- when Matthews tried to bring it into the paint.

"Blocked shots, definitely," DiVincenzo said when asked if he enjoys 3s or rejections more. "I pride myself on defense and just bringing energy to the team."

The 3 that sealed it came from a big step behind the arc and gave Villanova a 62-44 lead with a bit less than 8 minutes left.

About the only drama left was whether DiVincenzo could unwrap himself from his teammates' mob hug to toss the ball underhanded toward the scoreboard after the buzzer. He succeeded there, too.

Mikal Bridges finished with 19 in what could be his final audition for the NBA. Player of the Year Jalen Brunson was celebrating despite an off night -- nine points and two rebounds. His struggles barely mattered.

What a couple months it's been for Philly. First the Eagles. Now this. The Super Bowl, though, was a classic. This one was only beautiful to one team.

Michigan (33-8) came out playing tough-nosed defense it relied on over a 14-game winning streak that got the Wolverines to their second final in six years.

Moe Wagner scored 11 early points to continue his great play in the Final Four. Villanova started 1 for 9 from 3-point range. And yet, after DiVincenzo banged down a 3 from a step behind the arc for Villanova's second of the night, coach John Beilein looked at the scoreboard and saw his team behind, 23-21.

"The way DiVincenzo shot the ball, it was just incredible for us to try to win that game with the roll he went on," Beilein said.

If his first 3 wasn't demoralizing enough, DiVincenzo made another, then took a bounce pass from Brunson for a dunk, then paid it forward with an assist to Omari Spellman. It was part of a 23-7 run that gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead at halftime; they never looked back.

For the record, DiVincenzo has no problem starting games on the bench.

He's been willing to do whatever's needed since he arrived in 2015. His season cut short because of a knee injury, he was healthy enough to run the scout squad for Villanova during its first title run. Some on the team said he did Oklahoma star Buddy Hield better than Hield.

But maybe a more apt comparison is to ... Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

DiVincenzo joins them in the rare club of players to crack 30 points while also shooting better than 66 percent from the floor in a Final Four game.