The Flames have been sorely lacking in right wing depth since Iggy left, which is pretty dang sad considering all the time they had to fix that one specific problem. Free agency hasn’t really worked out and neither has trading. The team, throughout various management regimes, is seemingly adverse to drafting at that position, having only drafted seven in the previous 10 years (before the 2017 draft), and only two of them in the top 100 (Mitch Wahl and Hunter Smith).
To be fair, they have taken some steps to try and alleviate that problem. In the past two drafts, the Flames have selected four RWers (one converted C, Matthew Phillips), each with a unique skillset. Phillips is an all around scoring generator. Eetu Tuulola is a big body with a nose for the net. D’Artagnan Joly is a playmaker.
I would define Zach Fischer is the eyebrow-raising one. He probably wasn’t on a lot of radars as an overaged, low scoring WHLer, but had a weird history. Injuries claimed parts of his draft and draft+1 season, but a fully healthy d+2 year showed some signs of life and a prospect that could be hitting his stride at the right time, provided circumstances weren’t odd and he didn’t get injured.
So how did his 2017-18 go? Well there were odd circumstances abound and he got injured. Let’s find out more.
In a more elaborated version of what was said above, Fischer has taken the road less travelled in hockey. He went undrafted in the WHL, instead winning a spot with the Medicine Hat Tigers after claiming an all-star nod with his hometown Lloydminster team. With the Tigers, he had his ups and downs. His first two seasons with the club, more so the second rather than the first, were plagued with injury. His inability to find his game and stay healthy kept NHL scouts away.
However, his third season with the Tigers featured a pretty big breakout. Fischer managed to stay healthy for (almost) an entire year and put up his best season, scoring just over a point per game with middle six minutes. Finally, scouts noticed and the Flames scooped him up in the fifth round of the 2017 draft.
Fischer’s 2017-18 began on a weird note, as he left the Tigers three games into the season for unexplained reasons. Perhaps owing to the Tigers having more than the allowed number of overagers, Fischer spent a week in Calgary for evaluation before being traded to the Spokane Chiefs, where he would immediately slot in as a top six wing presence. In Spokane, he found a bit of consistency and was usually good for at least a point every game. Unfortunately, his regular season ended early in February after an undisclosed upper body injury held him out until playoffs.
|GP||G||A||P||Primary points||5v5 points||5v5 primary points||NHLE|
Fischer started off slow, but found a neat consistency to his game somewhere around the middle of the season. I figure he was playing injured the last few weeks of his regular season, and would have probably remained above 20 NHLe had he stayed healthy. He didn’t get much higher than his previous year’s totals, but was trending in that direction before injury struck. It is pretty necessary to point out that hovering around 20 in NHLe is not exactly great for a 20-year-old.
I think the impressive thing about Fischer is his ability to pick up primary points. Of course, being a goal scorer will help that, but he’s decent passing the puck, too. His exceptional strength at 5v5 relative to other game states is also promising. I hone in on 5v5 scoring and primary point production because it is often more repeatable than other types of scoring. Given Fischer has strengths here, he does have potential to perhaps be a useful character in Stockton.
The problem with Fischer’s numbers is that they are largely indicative of someone who is highly unlikely to be an NHL regular. Based on this season, zero players from the past 20 years of WHL hockey who have put up similar numbers to Fischer have played over 200 games in the NHL. Being okay in your overager season doesn’t exactly impress NHL scouts. Although he had two matches for his 5v5 production (Vern Fiddler, Cody McLeod), it’s not exactly positive given that there were 133 total similar players. In other words, 1.5%.
And that’s a trend that’s held throughout his career. His strongest season was last year, when he didn’t have a great percentage of successful matches (7% at all situations, 11% at 5v5) but had higher average comparable P/GP (.4 and .35, respectively). Otherwise, it’s mostly been more of the same. Although you could make the argument that injuries played a large part into his success (or lack thereof) in years past, it’s more than likely that he’s just a low percentage player.
It’s not looking great.
Optimistically, you can say that Fischer was just as good as he was last season before getting injured, but you must also accept that he is 20 and a top sixer. Those numbers just aren’t good enough given the circumstances. He can pick up primary points and score at 5v5, but never at high volume. It’s rare that anyone bucks the trend and becomes an NHLer with performances like that in junior. Regardless of how much Fischer’s play stands out on the ice, if it doesn’t stand out on the scoresheet it likely isn’t going to hack it in the NHL.
Basically, all there is left is hope. Perhaps if he lands in a stable situation, and perhaps if he can remain healthy all year, he can be a helpful pro body. He’s never going to be an NHL top sixer, but if he’s a fourth liner, that’s pretty fair value. Again, absolutely everything has to go right (and it so often does not) for this to happen.
All I can see right now is an AHL deal. The Flames aren’t necessarily close to the 50 contract limit after this offseason, but you feel that they probably want to keep some space around just for future. Fischer doesn’t look promising as a pro, so no need to stick with him for three years. Look at the first year, assess after, decide if he’s earned a contract then.