Tyson Foerster: Very Good at Hockey, How Far Can He Go?
I keep an eye on prospects. I like to–whenever possible–watch them play at their lower levels on their way to the big club. I watch Flyers prospects, but hell, I’ll even watch prospects from other teams. In my experience, it’s just easier to support a player that you didn’t just see put on an NHL jersey out of the blue.
By following their hockey careers before they reach the NHL, there’s a story you can glom onto that would otherwise have been inaccessible.
It’d sound very analytical and highfalutin of me to say that I watch prospects for evaluation purposes. Sure, I make evaluations while I do it. But that isn’t why I do it. I watch, because I want to take a first look at the future.
I’ve watched Tyson Foerster at lower levels. His shot was what everyone talked about, and for good reason. But his shot isn’t what defines him as a hockey player. I’ve always been most impressed by his vision and his poise. He has a willingness to stick his neck out and try something, then the ability to execute whatever high level play he’s tasked himself with.
His shooting isn’t just the product of velocity meeting accuracy. Tyson isn’t a shooter. He’s a sniper. Every shot he takes is calculated. It beats goalies, because he knew how he could beat the goalie then executed the plan in his head. That’s very different from just “letting err rip” and hoping for the best.
Tyson Foerster has never just hoped for the best. He makes “the best” happen through will and an extremely under-appreciated skill level.
That was who he was before he hit the NHL. But it’s impossible to know who someone will be when they reach the NHL. It’s a crucible in some ways. All those abilities that you think will translate… they just don’t translate. It happens all the time.
Those prospects you were always skeptical of, because they did some things–and had some habits–that you couldn’t picture translating? Sometimes those same habits do translate. Better than you could have ever imagined.
You don’t really know until you see it. And while players get better over time, I feel like that first impression is key. If you look close enough, you can see the things that will become the hallmark of the prospect’s game over time. Good or bad.
Foerster’s First Impressions:
Why would I say this when I can have Head Coach John Tortorella say it for me?
After his debut against Carolina, Tortorella had this to say: “Played very well. I thought he was one of the better players with the puck. With poise with the puck. His first game–against a top team like this–it’s encouraging. I thought he was one of our better players offensively.”
“Tyson–continues to impress. Blocks a huge shot. Not turning pucks over in our end when he’s getting pinched. You can see his offensive skill, but the other parts of his game have been impressive.”
The praise keeps going from there.
It’s been endless praise for the recently turned 21 year old playing in his first NHL games.
On the score sheet, it seems why. 6 points in a player’s first 7 games is pretty special stuff. Two of Foerster’s points have been goals. And both of those goals have been shining examples of who he is as a player.
Everything about this play was absolutely beautiful.
Watching a goal like that, you’d be forgiven for chalking it up to velocity and accuracy. Those certainly helped, but Tyson Foerster is so much more than a heavy shooter. To borrow a phrase from UFC fighter Israel Adesanya… he doesn’t throw and hope; he aims and fires.
NHL Network did a beautiful job breaking down the mechanics of Foerster’s second career goal.
Before I go on, let me just emphasize this for a second longer. NHL Network is doing featured segments breaking down the skill and intelligence of a player who scored his second career goal. In his seventh career game.
He doesn’t settle for an innocent shot from the wide lane. He sees a small opening to take the middle of the ice, and he takes it. He changes the angle of his shot, not just to throw off the timing of his release, but to open up more net on the far side. He uses his defender as a partial screen, even though there was a wide gap between him and the defender to begin with.
When someone who fires the puck that well can think at that high of a level, they’re probably going to score a lot of goals in their NHL career.
And Tyson’s two career goals to date have come against the stingiest defenses that the NHL has to offer. That one was against the Wild, third in the NHL in goals allowed.
His first came against the Hurricanes, second in the NHL in goals allowed.
Freddie Andersen did what goalies are taught to do. He moved his feet as Foerster came flying down the wing to set the angle and make sure he stayed square to the shooter. Foerster already understands that’s how goalies operate, and he’s already exploiting those tendencies. Watch how Tyson times his shot.
Just as Freddie’s feet moves to cover the short side post, Foerster wires his shot to the far side.
This isn’t some example of absurd puck luck. Tyson Foerster is a gifted finisher who doesn’t just overwhelm goalies with perfectly placed darts, but he outthinks them in dynamic situations where he has limited time to do so. He might not skate all that fast, but he sure as hell thinks fast.
And it really isn’t just about the shot with him. It isn’t just about the way he thinks through matchups with goalies. It’s the way he thinks the game period. It’s the way he makes plays.
People who can wire pucks as hard as he can aren’t usually nearly so adept at making plays for others. But 4 of Tyson’s points are assists for a reason.
He’s already making touch passes to make sure cross-ice feeds find their intended receiver.
He’s throwing flip passes to create breakaways.
Tyson isn’t a perfect player by any means. He’s not some sure-to-be superstar rising right in front of our eyes, but I’m also hesitant to say any label is beyond him. One thing we know for sure: he’ll never dominate the transition game with his legs.
But that’s okay. Jason Robertson doesn’t, either. And it hasn’t stopped him from ascending to the league’s elite. Does that mean Tyson Foerster is about to hit the peaks of Robertson? No, not necessarily.
But it has been done before. Players thought of as “slow” have risen to special heights. And if I’m the Flyers, I’m taking special note of every example. Aim for the moon with him, because it’s a good bet that he’ll at least land among the stars.
Like Robertson, a lot is made out of Foerster’s skating. And his top-speed is a limitation. But it is nothing that can’t be worked around. Robertson and Foerster both share a quality that makes it easier to overcome these limits. Their first strides are fast. They get to their top-speed quickly.
That makes them quick on pucks. They’re speedy in small areas, which makes them surprisingly adept forecheckers. Their forecheck pressures forces turnovers, which gives their team cycle opportunities. And on the cycle, when the contested area of the ice is shrunk by so much, then their lack of top-speed doesn’t matter. Thy can allow their skill and their tactical excellence to shine through.
The Flyers would be wise, however, to understand that Foerster won’t be able to excel in a vacuum. He can’t be the guy who lugs the puck up ice himself. At least, only in special circumstances. For the most part, he needs someone whose specialty is transporting the puck and attacking off the rush.
The Stars have Roope Hintz to compliment Robertson, and their pairing is transcendent. The Flyers, at this very moment, don’t have a Roope Hintz.
They have a Morgan Frost. In theory, he’s an ideal partner to Tyson. He can think the game at his level, and very few can. He has the legs that Tyson doesn’t, and a knack for being able to slice through neutral zone forechecks with skating and puck skills. That pairing has already flashed potential. Frost is factoring in on most of Foerster’s points, and there’s a reason for that.
Whether Frost is the ideal fit next to Tyson remains to be seen. In fact, it’s almost entirely up to Morgan. Most things are. He’s interesting that way. He has all the talent in the world. It’s just about staying aggressive and audacious. It’s a significant load to bear, being the guy to carry all of the line’s work in transition.
He has the dynamism to make that happen. And they’re already showing a kind of chemistry that usually takes dozens of games to materialize. So maybe he is the Hintz-comparable that the Flyers need to make the most of Tyson.
Or maybe that guy hasn’t signed his ELC yet.
Cutter Gauthier is one of the most dynamic rush threats in college hockey. He’s a maestro at attacking with speed, and he’s got a lot of speed to burn (as well as enough size to make himself a freight train when he gets moving). He’s an effective handler and decision maker with that speed.
Cutter’s one weakness in his college freshman season proved to be some rather uninspired cycle play. Maybe that changes with another year in school, and he becomes a true offensive engine. I don’t rule out the possibility, at all.
Or maybe he doesn’t have to, because he has a symbiotic partner waiting for him the second he dons orange and black for the first time.
Either way, Tyson Foerster has only needed seven games to prove that he will be heavily featured in future relevant Flyers teams. And that’s a safe outcome.
Somewhere out there, in his higher percentile outcomes, there remains the possibility that there’s something special in Tyson Foerster.