Photo Credit: Jack Lima

Taking Stockton: Spencer Foo

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.

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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:

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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.

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    • McRib

      Honestly we could use Foo right now, as Brouwer, Hathaway and Lazar can’t shoot the puck like Foo and we desperately need someone who can.

      Just FYI. Foos father is from Guyana in South America, mother is from Drumheller.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Rightly or wrongly, Foo will join the likes of Johnny and Mony, Chucky, Smitty and the other big boys when the team goes on its Red China Blues roadie next fall. Professionally, it would do him a lot better to remain in Calgary with the other top prospects getting in more reps and more ice time in exhibition games, but pro hockey is big business and if Foo in China can cause a Beijinger to buy a Flames’ jersey, then we are all cool with money trumping a young player’s development. Chase the coin.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Gee, he can either go to Saskatoon with a bunch of guys who will be playing for the Heat or go to China with the big kids. I wonder which he’ll choose? What we want is not always what is best for us.

        If his name were Smith or Jones and not Foo, he would most probably remain here.

        Foo an amazing ambassador for the NHL? Get real! Kid has never played a game in the NHL!

        • Burnward

          Here’s the real.

          Foo might have a long and solid career. And by going now, as a young kid, he can connect with kids in Asia that will see themselves in him and cheer for him over his career…if he makes it.

          They need to believe over there for the game to take off. He won’t be Yao. But he might be at least a foot bridge for some kids as he overcomes huge size differences with his skill. That’s an important message.

  • Mickey O

    Versteeg only wants to play here, to be close to family. He’s a game away from playing again and if he looks okay after hip surgery, can’t see why Treliving won’t sign up to another 1 year deal at say $1.5M. He’s a useful veteran to have around at that price. Bennett and Versteeg were the Flames’ best forwards in the playoffs last year.

    • GetOn'Em

      I hope he isnt brought back. I would rather see some help from wiyhin the organization Foo, Mango etc or a trade. Never been a big fan of Versteeg, i get he is cheap anf puts up ok numbers but imo he is a constant defensive liability on the PP with out the offensive flair.

    • FL?MES

      Management needs to think about what they want this team to look like 3 years down the road. In a sense, they need to start playing the futures game by bringing in guys in their 20’s that fit particular roles. For example, we need a sniper or two on forward, maybe a big bruiser with some skill up front, one or two Dmen who aren’t afraid to steamroll the occasional guy to keep other teams honest etc. It sounds easy enough but I will take some work to find balance and the right mix throughout the lineup.

      Overall I get the sense that we’re a middling team without the right pieces to make other teams play our game.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Bring Versteeg back next year. He won’t cost much. Re-up Shore to replace Stajan. He’s affordable. Lazar is still under a favourable contract for another year. Bring him back. Hathaway ain’t gonna break the bank as an RFA. Bring him back too.

      Do these 4 bimbos make the club that much more of a playoff lock and serious cup contender? They are cheap.

      When will you realize this club is not a player or two away from being solid, or shall we keep on blaming Gully and Burkie for all that is wrong with this club?

  • McRib

    Honesty Foo would be a huge improvement over any other RWer we have right now in the NHL on the bottom six. We could really use some who who can shot the puck there, because it’s clear Hathaway, Brouwer, Lazar can’t.

    • PrairieStew

      Foo’s ppg in the AHL is 0.64, which converts roughly to 0.3 – which is exactly where Brouwer is at. There is no TOI stats from the AHL, but I’m going to guess that Foo is getting more ice than the 13:17 Troy is averaging. So, if you think that he’s automatically a huge improvement I believe that is wishful thinking. Clearly he struggled early in Stockton, it would have been nonsensical for him to be here struggling even more. I hope he continues to improve and can push one of those guys out, but he’s not there yet.

      • PrairieStew

        Correction – Brouwer averages 13:37. For reference – Jankowski 0.88 ppg in AHL last year; only 0.33 this year in the NHL – Foo’s 0.64 would convert to 0.24 using that ratio.