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    Flyers may have a special player in red-hot Tyson Foerster

    Charlie O'Connor Avatar
    December 5, 2023

    It was in the second period when Tyson Foerster made it abundantly clear that he was poised to keep his goal scoring streak alive.

    No, it wasn’t when he ripped his absolute scorcher of a short-side snipe past Pittsburgh netminder Alex Nedeljkovic halfway through the stanza. That was the culmination of Foerster’s work. It instead came on his very first shift of the period, in a combination of subtle details and burgeoning offensive confidence.

    First, there was the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bump of Erik Karlsson along the boards, sealing him off and allowing Travis Konecny to corral the puck uncontested. And then, it was the assertiveness that comes with lugging the puck down into the slot and testing Nedeljkovic on his own, rather than deferring to a teammate. Sure, Nedeljkovic stopped the shot, as he did with most of the pucks the Flyers sent his way en route to his 31-save gem in defeat. But it hinted that Foerster again believes he could beat opposing goalies clean, and that he was back to trusting his shot in the wake of his first true snipe of the 2023-24 season in Pittsburgh two nights earlier.

    “I think anytime you can score in this league, your confidence is gonna rise,” Foerster noted.

    But Foerster never gets the chance to showcase that confidence if his small, subtle play along the boards doesn’t keep the Flyers’ cycle alive in the first place. Just like how he never would have had the opportunity to break out of his scoring drought at the NHL level if he hadn’t been delivering small but effective plays like that one through the season’s first month.

    And it’s the details of his game — especially now that his long-standing goal scoring ability appears to be returning — that make Foerster’s plausible ceiling so exciting.

    Nov 25, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; Philadelphia Flyers right wing Tyson Foerster (71) celebrates the win against the New York Islanders at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Salus-USA TODAY Sports

    After 15 games, one could have easily argued that Foerster warranted a demotion to the minors. Despite playing almost exclusively in a top-nine role alongside quality linemates, Foerster had managed just three points — all assists. It was a degree of offensive ineffectiveness that 99 times out of 100 probably would have led the Flyers to send the prospect down for more seasoning.

    But Foerster stayed. Why? Because Tortorella and the rest of the coached loved every other aspect of his game apart from his scoring (or lack thereof).

    “It’s great seeing him score the goals (now),” Tortorella said after the 2-1 overtime victory over the Penguins on Monday. “But it’s been so impressive as far as the other stuff. That’s caught us off guard as a coaching staff. We didn’t realize how equipped he was.”

    On Saturday, Tortorella said to the traveling media that Foerster was stronger on pucks than any other player on the team. On Monday, he added that Foerster had been the team’s “most consistent guy” on the whole, all year long. Far be it from wanting to give up on Foerster, Tortorella was positively giddy about the 21-year old, even before he started to break through with actual goals.

    And here’s the thing: that wasn’t merely a biased eye test, a case of Tortorella deciding that the big, strong winger with the plus shot simply needed to be on his roster, regardless of on-ice results. Foerster has excelled by advanced metrics as well, lining up perfectly with the coaching staff’s evaluation of his play.

    Sure, Foerster hadn’t been living up to his pedigree as a goal scorer. But he entered Monday’s game having helped the Flyers to a stellar 58.98 percent expected goal share (per Evolving-Hockey) at five-on-five when on the ice, and sat in the 94th percentile among forwards (with at least 100 minutes) when it came to xG play-driving impact.

    Good things were happening for the Flyers with Tyson Foerster on the ice, even if through 15 games, he wasn’t the one finishing off the plays.

    But it didn’t line up with the expectations surrounding Foerster, dating all the way back to 2020 when he was taken with the 23rd selection in the draft. Sure, both AGM Brent Flahr and then-GM Chuck Fletcher had praised the youngster back then for his hockey IQ and attention to detail. But that wasn’t why they spent a first round pick on him; it was Foerster’s blistering shot and potential as a goal scorer.

    The assumption from most was that Foerster would lean on his best physical attributes — namely, the quality of his shot — at the start of his career, and then look to round out his game to an NHL-caliber level from there.

    Instead, in his first full season at the highest level of hockey, it’s been the opposite.

    The “rounding out” instead came fully formed. He just needed to add to it what he had done at every other level of hockey throughout his career — his high-end shot and the deluge of goals it would help to produce.

     “I think defense first. I think I’ve been pretty good at that all year,” Foerster noted after Monday’s win. “I started off slow, and I thought the offense would come if I (kept) playing the way I was. That’s what’s happening.”

    Oct 24, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Philadelphia Flyers right wing Tyson Foerster (71) warms up before the start of a game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    The first crack in the dam came on November 18, when Foerster pounced on a loose puck off the end boards and fired it past a screened Logan Thompson for his long-awaited first goal of 2023-24. But that was a mere prelude to the real surge, which would begin two weeks later. Against New Jersey last Thursday, Foerster would eventually be credited with two third period goals, one off a Sean Walker shot that barely grazed Foerster (and wasn’t changed to his goal until a day later) and one a deflection of a Scott Laughton shot.

    Neither goal was the type of sniper’s tally that Foerster had been drafted to provide. But they were still goals, and they served their purpose of freeing up Foerster mentally.

    “Those kind of scorers, once they get one, it just unlocks everything else,” Sean Couturier said. “You just need that one goal or lucky bounce, and usually it just gives you that confidence to do what you’ve been doing.”

    On Saturday, Foerster showcased that very confidence, following up his two-goal performance against the Devils by ripping a shot past Tristan Jarry — his first of the season that was what fans envisioned it would look like when their long-promised sniper established himself at the NHL level. And then, he did it again on Monday, beating Nedeljkovic with a perfectly-placed short-side wrister. No screen, no deflection. Just one-on-one versus the goalie, and Foerster was victorious.

    But Foerster’s four-goals-in-three-games surge hasn’t come at the expense of the details in his game. He’s still winning battles along the boards, protecting pucks, and impressing his coaches with his two-way play. Across the two wins over the Penguins on Saturday and Monday, the Flyers collected a whopping 69.8 percent of the expected goals at five-on-five with Foerster on the ice — a clear sign that Foerster isn’t cheating for offense to get his goals. He’s just found a way to score while still playing the conscientious style that endeared him to Tortorella in the first place.

    “The way he plays, he plays the right way. He’s mature in the way he plays,” Couturier said. “He battles hard, wins a lot of battles. There’s a lot of little things that people maybe don’t notice, even if he’s not producing.”

    But what if Foerster is producing, and the little details hold up? Just how good can this kid ultimately be?

    “Yeah, I don’t want to talk too much about it, because I don’t want to jinx it,” Tortorella admitted.

    After all, the play-driving, sniping, goal-scoring winger is an especially rare playoff type. Usually, there’s a tradeoff. The purest snipers (Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, even Alexander Ovechkin) would always give back some of their offensive value via poor defensive results. And the best play-driving wings (Mark Stone, Justin Williams) generally were content to score in the 20-30 goal range rather than sacrifice their two-way soundness for extra scoring opportunities.

    But there are exceptions. Marian Hossa cracked the 35-goal mark five times, while getting at least one Selke Trophy vote in 15 different seasons. T.J. Oshie — who Foerster used as a stylistic comparable for himself back in 2020 after the draft — was an advanced stat star even as he regularly scored on upwards of 15 percent of his shots on goal during his peak years. It is possible for a player to successfully remain a distance shooting threat while also being a two-way stalwart.

    It seems even more doable for Foerster, who may already have the two-way part down at age 21, and possesses all the necessary physical tools to beat goalies clean on a regular basis.

    “Yeah, to me, (the details of his game) kind of fast-forwards him, as far as what it is to be a pro and the things you have to do as a National Hockey Leaguer,” Tortorella theorized.

    It’s also helped Foerster rapidly earn the respect of his teammates, by not letting his off-puck game slip even as he desperately tried to hang on at the NHL level after his best attribute randomly abandoned him. The result was that the entire locker room had Foerster’s back, and rallied behind him in support.

    “Every guy was telling him to stay with it, keep doing what you’re doing and it’s gonna start to go in,” Sanheim recalled. “It’s a hard league to score in. It’s never easy, especially as a young guy, and sometimes it takes time.”

    It did take time for Foerster. But now, the pucks are finally going in. And with his greatest strength returning, it’s suddenly far easier to get excited about his plausible ceiling as a player.

    Despite long-standing concerns about his skating, Foerster rarely looks behind the pace of play. He’s grading out as a better play-driver so far this season than both of the 1Cs on the ice Monday, one a Selke Trophy winner and the other an all-time great. He didn’t let the frustration of his scoring slump drag down the rest of his play. And finally, he’s proving that his goal scoring ability just may indeed be able to translate to the NHL level.

    “This is why we kept him in there,” Tortorella explained. “He stuck with it. He just continued to play. And I think he’s reaping some of the rewards of just his consistency, as far as his mind.”

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