While Noah Cates will be heading into next season with a new number, his goal remains the same. It’s continuing to build off of what he did this season and show he belongs with the Flyers and in the NHL.
Learning a new position at the NHL level can be tough. Cates had some prior experience in college as a center, but he was primarily used on the wing. But if you asked him what he likes now, he’d tell you that he’d like to continue developing at center from now on.
"”I feel very comfortable there. Almost like I wanna play there kind of thing. I’ve been good on the wing and it’s just felt like forever since I’ve been there. I don’t really wanna bounce around, but you kind of see Laughton do that and some other guys do that obviously. I’d do anything to be in this lineup and help this team.”"
He would be one of many Flyers that have moved between the wing and center throughout the year. As Cates mentioned, Scott Laughton has the versatility between the two spots. It’s just another way to keep yourself engaged in the game and being able to help the team out.
With the way that Cates ended up playing this year, he has drawn comparisons to Sean Couturier. It was Travis Konecny who said how impressive it was to see the similarities between the two at Cates’ young age.
"“Catesy, it’s just really impressive what he was able to do. I bring him up last because I played with him, and I had an opportunity to play like half my games with him and just see what he can do. For him to remind me that much of Coots in his first season is really, really impressive.”"
To be compared to someone like Couturier was a nice moment for Cates. And that is someone he would love to have a chance to play with next season if possible. He was able to learn a bit from him toward the end of the season. Along with being able to skate with him, the two worked on faceoffs together, an area of his game that Cates will continue to work on.
"”When that kind of got thrown around toward the end of the year, it was super cool. Obviously he’s won Selke trophies and scored a lot of goals in this league obviously just a great leader for that team and this organization for a long time. I’d love to get a game with him here soon and I think he’d be a huge addition for this team and unfortunately didn’t get to see it this year.”"
Laughton was also someone that Cates was able to learn from, especially playing on the same line with him. Laughton was able to take the tougher face offs or simply instill confidence in Cates that he could handle things when he was sometimes a bit in over his head with everything.
As the year went on, Cates was given more ice time and more responsibilities with the Flyers. And with a coach like John Tortorella, he wasn’t someone who was going to shy away from letting a player know how he was doing.
But for someone like Cates, it wasn’t very often that he was on the head coach’s bad side. In fact, it’s hard to find Tortorella ever talking negative about Cates.
"“It was definitely interesting. Really didn’t talk to him for the first half of the year. On the ice, off the ice it was pretty professional,” Cates said about the relationship with Tortorella. “As my role developed, he would talk to me a little bit more about playing center, playing against top lines, different things like that. It was a great relationship, I can’t complain about any opportunities I’ve gotten this year. All the coaches were great about it. Helping me learn or, like I said, giving me those opportunities. It’s really developed into a great relationship with all the coaches.”"
With those opportunities came more chances against some of the top players in the league. It was there that Cates was really able to learn how to handle himself. With a player like McDavid, you have to stay above him and take away his hands and speed.
Someone like Pastrnak, you have to stay close to him with his shot. And players like Rantanan and Barkov pose different threats with their size and skill as well.
"“There’s a lot of sneaky guys where you learn pretty quick after a few shifts kind of their skill sets and kind of what they like to do and how to play against them.”"
So Cates will head back to Minnesota for the summer and train alongside his brother, Jackson. Both are up for new contracts with the Flyers organization. Noah is a traditional RFA while Jackson is categorized as a Group 6 UFA since he did not play enough games to qualify as a standard UFA.
While the future for Jackson isn’t as clear, Noah is expected to be a part of the Flyers future moving forward. He is one of the young pieces this team can build around as they enter a rebuild phase. Short term or long term, Cates doesn’t have a preference which way the team leans.
"”Really not too worried about it. I, hopefully, can be a huge part of this thing moving forward and turning it around. I’m not sure what would be best for me or for the team, long term or short term. At the end of the day, I’m sure something beneficial for both the team and myself. And we can focus on moving forward here as a group.”"
With the cap not likely going up my much next season, the Flyers could bring Cates back on a two-or-three year deal with a bump in salary. He will certainly get a raise from the 925K he was making on his entry-level contract. We have seen teams lock out their potential star talent early, though, so never say never with a long term deal coming about.
But whichever way the Flyers decide to go, they should expect the same out of Cates either way. If he can continue to develop in the NHL as a center, it gives them another option down the middle with Sean Couturier hoping to return. If not, he can just as easily be slotted back on the wing with slightly less responsibility. He gives the team an option either way.
Along with some other younger players, Cates should be a piece for not only now, but the future. As long as he continues to develop the way he did this season.