When we look back at the 2019 NHL Draft, the talent of this current USNTDP program will either be seen as beneficial to the evaluation of certain of their prospects able to shine with teammates of comparable skill, or detrimental. There is a universe where all of the highly ranked players turn into impact NHLers, but it’s probable that some of them thrived in the downhill battles they were often fighting. Finding who those players were is one of the main questions of this draft.
What also complicates the evaluation is that sometimes the best way for a player to contribute on such a powerful team is to act as the best supporting piece they can be, picking their spots to show their skill, and generally enabling others to creatively fly around the ice. It’s a cliché, but there is just one puck to go around.
A great supporting piece is what Cam York became for the Under-18 Team during the season. The defenceman wasn’t slipping in and out of the defence like Jack Hughes, or exploding to get open like Alex Turcotte. He didn’t show the imaginative plays of Trevor Zegras, the flasy hands of Matthew Boldy, or the crazy goal-scoring of Cole Caufield. No, York was the quiet force, one who racked up points being the main connection between the multiple skilled forwards.
Birthplace: Anaheim Hills, CA, USA
Date of birth: January 5, 2001
Weight: 176 lbs.
Backing this talented crop, he managed to break the national program’s record for points by a defenceman in a single season with 65 in 63 games. His performance at the World Under-18 Championship continued this same productive trend, as he scored four goals and seven assists. There, he was generally perceived as one of the better defenceman in the tournament.
So what makes Cam York effective?
He excels between blue lines at breaking off opposing rushes. The tracked data from Mitch Brown shows that he is one of the best defenceman in the 2019 draft class at defending zone entries, angling opposing forwards to the boards and sweeping the puck away, even occasionally using his body to wall the entry to his defensive end.
This is the most effective way of limiting opposing chances. It severely limits the opposition’s ability to set up a good scoring chance, as the forwards have to beat a formed defence to retrieve the puck instead of gaining the benefit of speed to create space for a shot on net with a controlled entry.
York’s in-zone defence could use more work, especially in one-on-one skirmishes where he can fail to neutralize sticks, and will get beaten by hard cutbacks or more imposing attackers. However, the defenceman’s positioning was among the best in the program this season, and so was his ability to recognize opposing passing lanes. His interceptions often ended up bouncing to his high-flying forwards who could then flee the zone to create off the rush.
Once on the attack, York carefully joined his teammates up the ice, acting as the safety net as they criss-crossed upon entering the offensive zone. He liked to be the trailing option, but could also jump up to the faceoff circles for the odd backdoor play, if open and a high forward is present to cover for him.
York’s shot is effective at generating rebounds for his forwards to capitalize on. From distance, he forfeits some power for a quick release with little backswing, making his body rotation and bottom hand provide most of the force, like a scythe cutting through grass.
Cam York wears #2 with the USNTDP
The defenceman is at his most effective as a distributor. Using a similar movement to his shot, he snaps the puck quickly to each side of the ice, opening shots for his teammates before the defence and goalie can adjust. He also flashes an ability to make those same quick and precise passes from directly inside the defensive box when he occasionally jumps up to support the attack, leading to great scoring chances.
Cam York wears #2 with the USNTDP
Those sequences also give a glimpse of the blue-liner’s handling ability. Even if York rarely puts himself into situations where he has to dangle to create offence, he shows himself capable of it at times. Like in the play below where he heads into the offensive zone and sees he has no immediate support. He decides to sell a pass to an imaginary teammate to his left, and follows it up with a backhand toe drag into a shot. It fools both the defence and the goalie.
But those are only flashes and glimpses; a reel of some of his top plays from his draft year. York remains a conservative defenceman who only shows creativity when he is forced to.
It was the same story for him on the breakout this season. He was using the boards a lot and didn’t actively look to escape the forecheck to find controlled breakouts for his team, feeling that sending the puck out of the immediate reach of opponents was about all that was needed for his forwards to retrieve it and fly on the attack.
York is deceptively skilled, but he will have to learn to make use of his stickhandling skills and smooth-skating ability — he isn’t necessarily the fastest, but quick and agile — to escape opponents, create passing lanes and finding the stick of his teammates both on the breakout and in the offensive zone.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Dobber Prospects: #17
Elite Prospects: #20
Future Considerations: #14
Hockey Prospect: #13
ISS Hockey: #11
McKeen’s Hockey: #15
NHL Central Scouting: #12 (NA skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #16
He shows a lot of tools, seems to fit seamlessly inside a team’s system, and his game wouldn’t need a lot of adaptation to fit the professional style. But questions remain. How high is his ceiling? Was York just showing restraint this season in his approach to the game due to his circumstances? Can he become a play-driver in the next few years and earn more minutes at the pro level because of it?
If an organization in a lottery spot believes the answers to those questions will be positive, it’s very possible to see York go inside the top 15 of this year’s draft, as he is one of its most complete defencemen.
What could play to his advantage is that he had one of his most noticeable performance in his last contest of the season: the Bronze Medal Game against Canada. He set up a goal with his quick hands by joining the attack after a defensive play, scored from a one-timer, and was generally one of the better players on the ice. It must have left a great final impression to the many scouts in attendance.