A junior slump?
No. 17: Noah Cates
2020-21 League/Team(s): University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC, NCAA)
2020-21 Statistics: 5 G, 14 A, 19 P in 28 GP
Acquired In: 2017 (drafted)
Ranking in Spring 2020 25 Under 25: 19th
How did Cates’s 2020-21 hockey season go? Is his stock trending up or down from where it was entering the year?
It was a little bit of a weird season for Cates. He certainly didn’t have a poor season, to be clear, but it wasn’t stellar. We know him as something of a details player, who does all of the little things right, and that’s a piece of his game that was working well throughout the season, that didn’t go away. He even took on even more responsibility as he moved over from left wing to center UMD’s top line, and played well enough in that role.
But we did see him take a step back in the scoring department, as he put up just 19 points in 28 games after scoring 33 points in 34 games the season before. And that’s certainly a bit of a concern, that he’s plateaued a bit and there may not be more upward movement that we see in his game. But at the same time, it’s likely that the team’s collective struggles fuel this as well—UMD struggled a good bit, particularly down the stretch at the end of the regular season, to generate much of anything the way of offense, and while Cates was leaned on heavily, one player can only do so much, so he quieted down a bit too.
So maybe expectations were a little too high heading into this season, after what he was able to do in 2019-20, but the big takeaway is that while we can still feel good about Cates’s season, he just didn’t really take a big step forward in his development either.
What are we expecting from Cates this season? What should we be looking for from him?
The big piece is that we’d like to see him get back on track in his scoring. Last season was a weird one in a lot of ways, and if it ends up being just a down blip on the radar for him, we can live with that. There really isn’t too much more polishing that needs to go into his game, so getting the scoring game back is going to be big. He’s worked well, also, to improve his skating since he was drafted, and to see that continue to come along would be a positive.
Given where he’s at in his development, it was a bit of a surprise that he opted to return to UMD for his senior year, so there isn’t too much in terms of big things that we need to see him working on, really what we want to see is him being able to finish out his college career strong.
How does Cates fit into the Flyers’ long-term plans? Where does he stand in the Flyers’ organizational depth?
This is a bit of a weird situation as well. The Flyers seem to be high on Cates, and they seem eager to get him signed once the season’s over—and it’s hard not to see them signing his brother as well as, at least in part, an extra bit of insurance to make sure that gets done—but him opting to spend this one extra season in college does give some of the other forward prospects that have already signed a chance to get a leg up on him, if they have strong seasons with the Phantoms. Physically, he isn’t far away from being ready to make the jump to the NHL, and the Flyers seem ready to give him that opportunity, but if he has another somewhat underwhelming season, while others excel, he might find himself shuffled down the depth chart a bit more.
What do we think Cates’s ultimate NHL upside is, and how likely is it that he gets to something approaching that?
Cates projects as something of a utility bottom-sixer, someone who plays that sort of details oriented game, forechecks well, and can chip in a bit of offense to boot, and if we’re looking for some good news, it’s that he isn’t too far away from realistically getting to that level. He’s done a lot of really good work in college to continue to polish his game, and when you factor in his physical maturity, he already doesn’t look too far away from being NHL ready. Assuming all goes to plan and he signs at the end of his college season, it’s easy to imagine him being able to get at least a brief look in with the Flyers at the close of the season, if they’re eager to get him into the mix and are comfortable burning a year of his contract. That’s a conversation for another day, though. That’s all just to say that his ceiling is a manageable one, he’s not too far away from hitting it at all.