After the Flyers dropped a pair of games to the Sabres, Noah Cates was asked to share his opinion on what the Flyers have been missing.
In the NHL’s longstanding pecking order, rookies are expected to mostly be seen and not heard.
But after the Philadelphia Flyers dropped a pair of games to the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend, it was 23-year-old Noah Cates who was asked to share his opinion on what the Flyers have been missing.
“Just, kind of, the energy and kind of the swagger and whatnot that winning teams have,” Cates said Sunday, after his team’s 5-3 loss to Buffalo. “Kind of expecting to win and, whether you’re up or down, you kind of play the same way.”
Cates comes from a winning culture, earning a national championship as a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2019 and reaching the Frozen Four three times in his college career. He was also a leader for the Bulldogs, serving as captain for the last two seasons.
But Cates knows that it’s not his place to try to fix the Flyers right now.
“It’s definitely hard to, as a younger guy, say something or whatnot,” he admitted. “But I think I’ve just gotta keep playing hard, keep chipping away and kind of talk a little bit when I can.
“There’s obviously great leaders in that room that are doing the same thing. They’re pulling on the rope, too. So, just trying to be on board with them.”
“I feel like there should be motivation,” said veteran Kevin Hayes, who has taken on even more of a leadership role with the team since Claude Giroux’s trade-deadline departure. “It’s the NHL. We get paid millions of dollars to show up and perform at our job. If you can’t find motivation, you shouldn’t be on the ice.”
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Cates’ First-Line Minutes
The Flyers are 2-8-0 since Cates made his NHL debut on Mar. 29, in his home state against the Minnesota Wild. That came just three days after the Bulldogs were eliminated by the eventual champions from Denver in the second round of the Frozen Four tournament.
With a reputation for responsible two-way play, Cates has primarily been charged with fourth-line duties on left wing since joining the Flyers. He also takes some shifts on the penalty kill.
In Buffalo on Saturday, he logged the primary assist on Travis Konecny’s second-period goal. That appears to have caught coach Mike Yeo’s attention.
To start the final frame, Cates was bumped up to the Flyers’ top line, playing with Konecny and Hayes. There was no scoring for either side, but when the trio stayed together on Sunday, Cates recorded his first NHL multi-point game.
He set up Hayes to give the Flyers the early lead, just 1:16 into the first period.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 17, 2022
Early in the second, the line combined again. Cates got into the dirty area to tally his third goal in orange and black.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 17, 2022
Now with five points in 10 games, Cates ranks fourth in team scoring since arriving in Philly. He’s behind only Hayes (eight points) and defensemen Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov (six points each).
Cates also has a team-best plus-three rating, during a stretch where the Flyers have been outscored 32-22 at 5-on-5.
So, there is a bright spot in that ugly pair of losses to the Sabres: Cates has slid seamlessly and effectively into a top-six role.
Adjusting To The Grind
The Flyers have six games left in their season. They head to Canada this week for games in two of the world’s most hockey-mad cities, playing the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday and Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.
Then, it’s home for a Sunday date against their arch-rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, before hitting the road next week for games in Chicago and Winnipeg. The year will wrap up back at Wells Fargo Center on April 29, with a visit from the Ottawa Senators.
For Cates and his fellow collegians Ronnie Attard and Bobby Brink, adjusting to the rigors of the NHL schedule has been eye-opening.
“It’s obviously different from the college game — the energy and the intensity and just how the games are played,” he said.
“Obviously, it’s a way different schedule. I think we’re feeling that now, being here for a couple of weeks — just how hard and rigorous the schedule is on your body, mentally, physically.
“It’s really hard, but we can always kind of grind through a couple more weeks,” he chuckled. “We’re trying to make the most of it.”
With the Flyers’ current litany of injuries, the door is open for prospects to make their cases for the future. Cates has a chance to all but lock up a roster spot on the big club next season if he continues to impress with his strong play and his nose for the net.
“Every guy individually has their own reason,” Cates said. “And, you know, for the team just keep clicking here and hope to get some wins.”
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