Let’s face it, things haven’t been great this season in cowtown. Sometimes it’s helpful to take ourselves back to the summer, when optimism reigned and the Flames weren’t losing every single home game to eighth-string goalies. A part of that optimistic summer memory I wish to conjure for you is Spencer Foo, the college free agent signed in late June of 2017.
After the jump, we check in with Foo’s rookie season in the AHL.
Entering into this season, there was a lot – perhaps too much – optimism surrounding Foo’s chances of making a big impression on Flames brass in training camp. Spending three years at Union College meant that Foo was not a typical AHL rookie in terms of age but still had an exceptionally large adjustment to make turning pro.
Foo was a prolific scorer at Union, scoring 62 points in 38 games during his final year, a campaign good enough to earn him ECAC first team All-Star honours and be nominated for the Hobey Baker Award. Following a protracted period of uncertainty, Foo chose to sign with the Flames after previously attending their 2016 development camp.
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) June 27, 2017
In order to orient the reader, Foo is just four days younger than Ottawa Senator standout Pat Sieloff, which, frankly, somehow seems both much older and younger than one would expect. Anyways, enough about Pat Sieloff, let’s get to how Foo has fared in his debut season.
I know all of you read Christian Tiberi’s prospect reports, but I’ll give you a synopsis of Foo’s early season: very unlucky. As Tiberi noted in his prospect update from Nov. 14, 2017, Foo had only one goal in his first 19 games despite being among the team leaders in shots. It is difficult to imagine how frustrating that would have been for a player like Foo who had come off of such a successful final year in the NCAA. It was looking as though Foo was going to have a nightmarish rookie season in the AHL.
However, Foo didn’t lose hope. Heat communications director and play-by-play announcer Brandon Kisker had this to say about Foo’s transition to the AHL:
I think Spencer has adjusted well. In the fall, I think one of the most notable things about Spencer was he was getting pushed around, a lot. And actually, if I go back and think to Janko’s ATO with the Heat in 2015-16, even he was pushed around and knocked down with relative ease. Then in 2016-17, he was noticeably better competing for pucks in corners, around the net and keeping a good center of gravity. For Foo, that adjustment was one of the biggest challenges he faced to start the year; as we all know, it’s tougher playing guys Dalton Prout’s size in the AHL then it is playing amateur defensemen in the NCAA or even juniors.
Everyone’s development path is different and for Spencer it took a little bit to figure out the pro game and how he can best help the team. He had to get a little stronger on his feet, had to round out his game and become a solid defensive player, and as Coach Huska always preaches to everyone on the team, opportunities come when you don’t cheat the game.
Spencer definitely doesn’t cheat the game, he’s always in those hard areas and I’d say a good chunk of his goals have come with him right around the goal mouth. He’s not overly big, but he’s smart and cerebral, and has learned when to pick his spots better now than before. And like every player who expects to score, once the goals started coming, he got confidence and now carries a real swagger to his game.
However, since around the start of January, coinciding with a number of call-ups to the Flames, Foo started to come into his own and currently sits tied for third on the team in scoring with Morgan Klimchuk (who is in his third year as a pro), with 18 goals and 16 assists over 52 games played. Considering the dreary start to his year, this finish has been a pleasant surprise.
Kisker explained that Foo’s 2018 emergence has been the product of both the player and the opportunity provided to him by the coaching staff:
Leading the Heat in goals both on the power play (seven entering tonight) and shorthanded (two), it shows that he’s been counted on in a lot more situations than he was before because he’s earned the trust of the coaching staff. Not everyone is a Mark Jankowski, making a jump from the NCAA game to the AHL with the same kind of effectiveness, and while it took Spencer some time to figure that adjustment out, no question he’s a better player now because of it. I’d say he’d be right up there with some of the Heat’s most valuable players this season.
After the tumultuous start, Foo has a shot at equaling Andrew Mangiapane’s rookie campaign last season of 41 points in 66 games played, though it is important to acknowledge the fact fact that Mangiapane is two years younger than Foo. Mangiapane is a very good player.
For what it’s worth, Foo has already generated more shots (139) than Mangiapane last season (132). Foo has averaged roughly 0.52 primary points per game this season, which is almost identical to Mangiapane’s rookie campaign last season (0.53). I asked Kisker about his comparison between the two players:
While Spencer is bigger than Andrew, I think both players had/have to work on stronger cores, strong lower body, and finding your center so that when you compete for pucks in those difficult areas, they can come out with pucks instead of getting checked to the ice and turning the puck over.
To me, that’s been Mangiapane’s greatest success this season. He may be small, but he’s feisty and tenacious, and really worked hard over the summer to get stronger and now you see him grind his way past 6’4 defensemen behind the net routinely.
[I’m] noticing that from Spencer too now where he’s not getting knocked around like he was to start the season but seeing Mangiapane’s jump from being a 20-goal and 41-point getter last year to a truly dominant AHL player who’s well over a point-per-game this season, makes me excited for Foo’s summer and his camp next year. Just like Mangiapane, he could certainly push for an NHL job next season, and I’m not sure I’d have thought that through his first handful of games.
If Foo can close out this season strong, he will have completed a very respectable rookie campaign: a far cry from the dismal statistical year it appeared he was destined for in December. In an organization that will likely be losing Kris Versteeg and with very few other internal options at right wing, Foo’s path up the ranks might be accelerating.