Entering last season, after being drafted 14th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers, sophomore defenseman Cam York had a lot on his plate.
Not only did York surpass those expectations, he obliterated them.
By the end of the season, York was a Big Ten Rookie of the Year finalist and his defensive prowess was apparent. As a first line defenseman, he helped the Wolverines allow just two goals per game, the fewest of any Big Ten team while also boasting the second-best penalty kill percentage, defending 84.3 percent of power plays.
Ultimately, though, what sets York apart is his two-way ability.
York’s game is representative of a bigger trend across all levels of hockey. Defensemen are no longer bruisers whose main purpose is to block shots and make checks. Instead, defenders are quick, elusive players who can operate as a fourth forward when their team is on the rush.
York proved that he was one of these new-age defenders by contributing five goals and 11 assists in his freshman campaign — tied for fourth in points on Michigan’s roster and third among all Big Ten freshmen.
To set up a goal last season against New Hampshire, York came flying in from the left side, took the puck in stride, glided below the net and then snuck in the wrap-around attempt for the goal. York displayed his offensive skill set with a dangle to drop the defender and force the goaltender to over-commit to the wrong side.
A more typical defender would have stopped at the point and tried to throw a puck on goal.
But not York.
As soon as he caught the pass, York’s intention was to take it all the way to the net. He possessed the confidence and the hands to create this offense. His ability to generate scoring opportunities like this as a defenseman makes Michigan’s offense all the more dangerous, especially with a shot as good as his.
In the second period of a win against Ohio State last January, York took the puck off the faceoff and went to work. He moved to the left and then faked a shot before continuing to skate toward the opposite faceoff circle. The defender was anticipating the earlier shot and York recognized this and exploited it, catching the defender flat-footed, causing him to stumble.
York then loaded up and shot back across his body to the right. The goaltender had been following York as he moved laterally and York was able to take advantage and fire into the space that opened up on the right side for the goal.
York’s offensive ability goes beyond scoring, his presence can wreak havoc on opposing team’s defenses just by touching the puck.
In a win over Notre Dame last February, York took a pass and stick-handled the puck before he pulled back and dished it over to sophomore defenseman Nick Blankenburg, who ripped home a shot for the power play goal. On the surface, all York did was pass it over, but there’s a lot more to this assist — drawing the defenders toward him opened up a shooting lane in the center of the ice for Blankenburg to exploit.
Just the fact that York had the puck gave the defense a lot to think about. He had the ability to score as soon as he collected the pass. The defender couldn’t overcommit to blocking the shot, though, because York could have made a deke move and took it down low.
The depth chart may list him as a defenseman, but York has proven he’s far more than that. He’s an all-around weapon for Michigan to deploy on both ends of the ice.