Why mess with a good thing?
That was part of the reasoning behind former Anaheim Jr. Ducks defenseman Cam York deciding to remain in the state of Michigan to play NCAA Division I hockey for the Wolverines.
York, who played eight seasons with the Jr. Ducks’ 2001 birth year group, has been a standout at the U.S. National Team Development Program in Plymouth, Mich., the past two seasons. A trip to nearby Ann Arbor, Mich., earlier this season sealed his decision to play for Michigan.
“After I de-committed (from Boston College), we (the NTDP’s U18 team) played a few weeks later at (Michigan’s) Yost Arena,” York recalled. “It was a special place, a special arena. The way Michigan supports that team is pretty special, too.”
Special also is a good way of describing his birth year cohort with the Jr. Ducks.
York is the seventh 2001 with ties the Jr. Ducks who has made a college commitment, and the second one headed to Michigan, joining Josh Groll. The others include longtime teammates Ryan Johnson (Minnesota), Nicholas Kent (Quinnipiac) and Jonathan Panisa (UMass-Amherst), as well as Jarrett Overland (Air Force) and Ethan Wolthers (UMass-Amherst).
“It’s crazy to think about,” York said. “We’re all amazed at what we were able to accomplish. We are proud of each other. That was a special group for sure."
And it was one that constantly pushed each other to improve, said Craig Johnson, who coached the team along with Scott Niedermayer.
“It was a great team to work with,” said Johnson, who also is the Jr. Ducks’ director of coaches. “Practicing against each other every day helped them grow. They were a competitive, hard-working group.”
Overall, York makes it 20 players with ties to the club who have made Division I college commitments in the past five seasons, and that number is expected to increase this season with several more players from birth years ranging from 1998 to 2001 in conversations with colleges.
“Cam has worked hard,” Johnson said. “He’s a great kid from a great family that has been committed to doing things the right way.
“You love to see people like that succeed.”
York’s play at the NTDP has been so strong that he’s put himself on the radar for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He’s on NHL Central Scouting Service’s A list, meaning he’s projected to be a first-round draft choice. International Scouting Services ranks him 15th in this draft class. Ryan Johnson is on the CSS B list, meaning he is considered a second-to-third-round pick.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound York amassed 38 points in 59 games last season and added 11 more points in 13 games in two international competitions. This season, he had 16 points through 21 games.
That’s only intensified the attention he’s received.
“I don’t pay attention to any of it. All it does is distracts you and gets you off your game a bit,” he said. “I want to focus on every game that night, not on who’s watching or rankings or whatever.”
One appeal about Michigan was its up-tempo style of play, something York said fits well with his game.
“Their coaching staff understands my game,” he said. “Within their system I can be who I am on the ice.”
He also got some inside information on the program from a couple of former NTDP players at Michigan – forward Josh Norris (a 2017 first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks) and defenseman Quinn Hughes (a 2018 first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks). Hughes’ younger brother Jack is a U18 teammate of York’s and is projected to go first overall in June’s draft.
York is the first Jr. Ducks player to go to the NTDP, and he said was well prepared when that opportunity arose.
“My youth coaches, Craig Johnson and Scott Niedermayer, have been through a lot, seen a lot and played through a lot at the highest level,” York said. “Anything I could pick their brains about, I would try to do it.
“Off the ice they’re great people. I’m able to talk to them whenever I need anything. They’ve been two really influential people in my career.”
Life in the NTDP, a hothouse for many of the top U.S. prospects in their respective birth years, hasn’t been easy, but it’s been well worth it, York added.
“It’s not for everybody,” he said. “I’ve taken control of my development and focused on trying to become a better player. They’ve given me the resources I’ve needed, and their coaching staff has helped me grow.”
York has a chance to become the highest-drafted California-born and –trained player in June. Beau Bennett was selected 20th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2010.
“As a club, we’re excited for Cam, for what the future holds, with the draft and Michigan as well as beyond,” Craig Johnson said.