The decision to send Cam York down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms was a shock to many.
During training camp, York appeared to be the heavy favorite to fill the 3LD spot next to Justin Braun. York and Braun played 18 games together during 2021-2022, so chemistry was growing between the two:
“I was able to play with him last year, and that’s really nice; being able to have a familiar face, a veteran like him who played a bunch of games, a bunch of big games, and has been through it all pretty much. He’s a great person just to go to for really anything off the ice, on the ice. He’s a great mentor.”Cam York; 9/25/2022
When training camp and the preseason were all said and done, York didn’t make the final roster cut.
York played 30 games with Philadelphia during 2021-2022. Scoring 10 points (3G, 7A) during his first major NHL stint, York made steady progress, appearing alongside Ivan Provorov at times.
He made his 2021-2022 season debut on January 4, 2022, in his hometown of Anaheim, California. The Flyers fell 4-1 to the Ducks, but York received praise from his teammates:
“I think he was solid. We know he’s a good player. He’s got a lot of skill and a lot of talent. For his first game of the year, especially in his hometown here, I’m sure it was really special for him. It’s not easy stepping up into the first pair for your first game of the season. I thought he did a great job.”Carter Hart; 1/5/2022
Philadelphia’s 2021-2022 campaign was an utter disaster, however, York gave fans and those around him things to feel good about. After his season debut, interim head coach Mike Yeo said just that:
“If there’s one thing for me as a coach, or fans to feel good about, it was the play of Cam York. I thought he was outstanding tonight. We didn’t try to shelter him, let’s put it that way.”Mike Yeo; 1/5/2022
2022-2023 Camp and Preseason
“He looks stronger. He’s still got great skills out there, getting pucks through in the scrimmages, which is huge. That’s going to pay off during the season, he’s not getting them blocked.”Justin Braun; 9/25/2022
York was making noticeable gains during camp, but his struggles and lack of experience at the pro level were visible during preseason games. During the preseason, York played five games. He finished without a point and a -6 rating.
After his preseason performances, the demotion of York seemed reasonable but jarring. John Tortorella mentioned that he wanted to play the “kids” in 2022-2023, causing a bit of head-scratching when York didn’t make the cut.
Tortorella acknowledges and recognizes the “God-given” abilities that York owns. The decision to send him down to the minors will ultimately benefit the 21-year-old defenseman:
“That’s the thing that York and I have discussed through camp. There’s so many God-given abilities he has that other players don’t. We want to try to get to him. I don’t think we got to him. I don’t think we got to the abilities where he could help us right now with our defensive core.”John Tortorella; 10/5/22
Tortorella was pushing his players not only physically but mentally throughout his camp. For Tortorella, it was the mental hurdle that played a role in demoting York:
“For me, with Yorky, it’s not the physical skills, I think it’s the mental skills. I think it’s him learning to, first of all, wanting to be a guy that’s going to make a difference, and being the player to make a difference. Just remember guys, this is a young man playing a really important position in our game. This isn’t bad. This is process of building a team and we feel he’s going to be a very important part of this team when we find our way.”John Tortorella; 10/5/22
The York demotion could still appear odd, but it’s not unusual within the Flyers organization. Scott Laughton and Travis Sanheim had stints in the NHL before being sent back to the AHL. Even Bill Barber and Claude Giroux were once in the same position York finds himself currently.
Through eleven games played in 2022-2023, York is Lehigh Valley’s leading scorer with nine points (3G, 6A.) The Phantoms (5-5-1) are seventh in the Atlantic Division. York is tied for eighth amongst AHL defensemen in points.
On the top defensive unit, York is nearly keeping a point-per-game pace. He’s tallied a point in seven of eleven games while contributing about two shots per game. On the powerplay, he has two goals; both were game-winners.
His highest scoring season in the AHL was during 2021-2022 when he scored 12 points (2G, 10A) in 34 games before being recalled to Philadelphia. York projects to finish with 59 (20G, 39A) at his current pace.
Still, the highest-ranked defenseman within the Flyers’ system, York is developing into a player who can take control of games, a difference maker. Tortorella challenged him during the preseason, and he’s achieving the goal in the AHL. Similarly, Tortorella challenged Sanheim at the NHL level.
The AHL is arguably the second-best league in the world. Honing his craft and gaining confidence, York is battling against a hungry pool of competitors all looking for their avenue back to the NHL.
If York continues his pace, a return might not be far away.
(Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)