One of the newest Flames (this is a title that is being passed on every day, it seems), Spencer Foo is both earning a lot of hype and a lot of questions.
A relatively unknown dev camp invitee, Foo has risen from irrelevant to minor NHL UFA bonanza. His signature was one of the main prizes of the NCAA free agency series, and his choice has got a lot of people excited, particularly those south of Red Deer.
But still, a lot of questions. No one really knew who Foo was until late in the season, and given that his only appearance before now was a cameo in July, there’s still a few questions remaining that a simple statline cannot answer.
So what type of player are we getting in Foo? What can we expect?
Foo had a great season, but how does he stack up historically? We always hear about these high scoring college prospects that never amount to much afterwards. How did his comparables do?
Good news and bad news: since 1996-97, there have only been 15 guys in the ECAC who have scored above a 1.50 PPG pace. It’s a rare feat, so applause is deserved for Foo and Vecchione. Those last four players all hit that mark in 96-97, so it’s really 11 guys over 19 years. Quite the achievement.
The bad news is that it makes this exercise kind of meaningless. The sample is taken from a large period but is still small enough to only draw sketchy conclusions. There have only been four players that have scored more than Foo, and three have turned out to play more than 100 NHL games. However, only one of them was 22 (Andy McDonald) during their comparable season. We can also look at the four players who were 22 during their comparable seasons, two of whom turned out to be regular NHLers. That could be a positive, but again, sample size.
CanucksArmy was equally as generous, saying that 40% of Foo’s comparables became effective NHLers, albeit with similar sample size issues. Basically, two out of five.
Growth over his past three seasons
Foo exploding over the past year certainly raised his UFA profile.
The biggest improvement Foo made was in shots per game, where he jumped up by 1.25 S/GP. That’s an extremely positive step forward, and is potentially a reason he took huge jumps in points per game (+0.94) and goals per game (+0.35).
Are there other reasons? Perhaps.
With regards to point ratios, Foo has been relatively steady over his career. He has always been a strong producer of primary points, as we see in the P1/P% ratios. The one red flag is the 5v5 points versus all situations points. Foo nearly took a 20% dip in that category, as his usage on the PP and PK increased. Although the majority of his points last season came from special teams play, we needn’t worry because…
… Foo still had a ridiculous amount of production at 5v5. Sure, part of his gaudy numbers are from special teams, but based on 5v5 production alone, we can still be very optimistic.
The other Union superstar, Vecchione, has already been a superstar at the college level. Since joining Union in 2013, he’s been a top-notch player for the Dutchmen, and has even rocked the C over the past two years. It was no surprise that Philadelphia picked him up. He’s a steady presence, and is a safe bet to be at least a decent NHLer. Small sample size, but in the two NHL games he played this year, he was a pretty good player by all accounts.
So did Vecchione being good benefit Foo in any way? Probably not.
The more important categories are the primary points (P1) categories. For the most part, their stats are really similar, except Foo is much better with regards to primary points. He scores nearly a third more every game, and was way less reliant on secondary assists to boost his points total. In all situations, Foo had a better primary points to total points ratio by just about 21%, and also beat Vecchione by just over 2% at 5v5. It’s not a new thing either; Foo has been stellar at these categories throughout his career. In 2014-15, he was at 80% for P1/P, and 93.33% at 5v5. The next season, he was at 92% and 100%, respectively.
Breaking it down a bit more and looking at individual contributions to the other’s goals, we can see just how much of an impact Foo made on Vecchione’s game. Of the 28 Vecchione goals it was possible to get an assist on this past season (one penalty shot), Foo had 11 assists (39.28%), nine of them being primary (32.14%). Conversely, on the 26 Foo goals, Vecchione did have 15 assists (57.69%), but only six were primary contributions (23.07%). Simply put, Foo was a more important driver of Vecchione’s scoring than Vecchione to Foo.
More positives include Foo being the more eager shooter, ripping off 0.5 more per game. He was also less reliant on an inflated shooting percentage than Vecchione (to be fair, Vecchione shot 8% the previous year, so it was likely his luck balancing out).
Both players are good, don’t get me wrong – you don’t rank first and second in conference scoring by accident – but the evidence points towards Foo being the all around more impactful player. He’s always been a strong producer of primary points, and the fact that he was almost equally as good, arguably better, than Vecchione is nothing but good news. Especially considering he’s the younger guy.
Given that there’s so little room on the Flames’ roster already, it would be reasonable to expect Foo to start next season in the AHL. With absolutely no idea how he will translate to the NHL, Stockton seems like a safe bet.
Perhaps he can be a surprise, but he’s really going to have to wow the team. There’s quite a line of players with prior pro experience on expiring contracts that are probably going to be fighting to remain relevant in the org, not to mention that the team is pretty much already set for forwards (albeit, with a spot open in the position he plays). But he should definitely be a leader on the farm. He’s a pretty exciting player.