In a rebuild, the focus is on the players who will be a part of the healing process.
Ian Laperriere did a great job developing young prospects with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Philadelphia Flyers recalled rookies for various NHL stints over the last two seasons. Cam York, Samuel Ersson, and Owen Tippett mightily improved in their first season under John Tortorella.
“He’s [Laperriere] done a terrific job. We’ve got some kids come up here; he did a terrific job with Yorkie. The kids that have come up here, and hopefully some more, they come up and play. They’re ready to play. He puts a lot of time into it, him and his staff, as far as teaching him what it is to be a pro.”John Tortorella; 3/13/2023
Tippett drives scoring chances, transforming into the power forward he projected to become. Down the middle, another forward routinely makes his presence.
Kevin Hayes joked about his trade rumors before the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline that he heard the Flyers “need centers.” It was a tad tongue-in-cheek since Hayes, a center, was at the center of the question. He wasn’t wrong in his assessment; Philadelphia does need quality depth in the middle. It’s critical to maintain forwards that prioritize defensive responsibility.
Noah Cates represents the nucleus of a tried-and-true formula with the Flyers. Find a center that disrupts the opposing team in their defensive zone, shortening the ice for dangerous offensive opportunities. Cates is tenacious on the forecheck while using his stick to make alert plays on defense. His attention to detail on the defensive duties of playing center was apparent under Mike Yeo. In his first complete NHL season with Tortorella, Cates is earning recognition towards the Selke Award.
“That’s what I believe in. You can talk about system all day, but it’s the little things in the game that’s a big difference between winning teams and losing teams. Everyone talks about Tampa; they’re out of this world, they’re great, they’re skilled, and everything. It’s not why they win. They win because they do the little things right. They made the right decision with the puck at the right time; and Torts, he made a career out of coaching like that.”Ian Laperriere; 9/15/2022
In the rebuild, some assets are worth trading for an equal or better return, but some prospects are worth holding. Cates reflects a young Sean Couturier. In 2019-2020, Couturier finally won the Selke Award. His trajectory shows he could be a first-line center in Philadelphia through the rebuild or a top-six forward on a healthy lineup. Considering the injury history of Couturier and the uncertainty of a potential Hayes trade in the offseason, Cates is vying for the top spot.
He’ll have competition with Morgan Frost. On a prove-it deal, Frost did manage 31 points (13G, 18A) in 66 games. Cates is more defensively sound than Frost, which might push him into the middle-six of the lineup with the intention of boosting Frost with more potent scorers like Tippett.
Veteran players atop the Flyers’ lineup aren’t likely to be there when the rebuild is complete. Cates, 24, will still have prime years available. Cutter Gauthier and Tyson Foerster are other forwards expected to make an impact in Philadelphia, but Foerster dressed as a winger during his debut stint, and Gauthier is a natural winger with the intention of being developed into a center. Both of those prospects have abilities that highlight scoring but aren’t touted to be the two-way NHL forward Cates’ becoming.
Certainly, Briere and Tortorella need to conjure a way to score in the NHL with the 30th-ranked offense. As important is an anchor at forward with an intelligent, well-scouted two-way mind.
“I can’t keep looking by things because we’re worried about scoring. I gotta’ look at the big picture of what this team is going to be, what the standard is of how we have to play. So that far outweighs losing some offense in a particular game.”John Tortorella; 12/17/2022
Cates has a giant role in the rebuild, likely to pull the Flyers into the fight as they build their foundation to climb back up the ladder in the NHL.
(Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)