Needing more bona fide scorers in their system, the Flyers selected right winger Tyson Foerster with their first-round pick in Tuesday’s virtual NHL draft.
Foerster, chosen 23rd overall, is an edgy player who has been compared to Corey Perry. The 6-foot-1, 194-pounder had 36 goals and 80 points in 62 OHL games last season with the Barrie Colts. That was vast improvement from his first OHL season (10 goals, 23 points).
“He’s a shoot-first guy,” assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. “He just has that mentality.”
Flahr said there were a group of players the Flyers liked at No. 23, “and we decided to go with the goal scorer and a guy with size.”
During the pandemic, “We spoke a lot to him and his skating coach and his strength and conditioning coach,” Flahr said. “We believe he’s made big strides during his time off and used his time wisely.”
By the way he shoots the puck “and his instincts inside the offensive zone, he should be a great addition to the Flyers organization,” Flahr said, adding Foerster was “more than just a shooter.”
Foerster, who has played both center and wing, said he tries to model his style after T.J. Oschie by playing a strong two-way game. He said he was in touch with the Flyers before the draft, and he had an inkling they might select him.
“Obviously, it’s a dream come true,” he said.
Scouting experts were divided on Foerster, with some saying he needs to improve his skating. He was ranked 16th by Craig Button of TSN, 29th by Bob McKenzie, 34th by Elite Prospects, and 46th by McKeen’s Hockey.
Foerster, 18, an Ontario native, has a wicked shot -- he had 18 power-play goals last season, and he is lethal with one-timers from the left circle -- and is regarded as a good passer with a high hockey IQ. He has some defensive limitations, scouts say.
Flahr isn’t concerned about Foerster’s perceived skating deficiencies, saying he will improve as he gains strength.
“Once he does that, I think his overall game will get better and better,” Flahr said.
Foerster, who attended a Flyers game in Philadelphia as a youngster, praised his former Barrie coach, one-time Flyer Dale Hawerchuk, 57, who died in August, for helping his development.
The Flyers passed on a chance to draft center Ridly Greig, a speedy and gritty center whose father, Mark, is a long-time scout with the team. Greig was selected by Ottawa at No. 28.
“The whole room erupted when he got drafted,” GM Chuck Fletcher said of the Flyers' executives in their draft room in Voorhees.
Just before the Flyers made their pick, division rival Washington made a deal with Calgary, moving up to No. 22 and taking gifted center Hendrix Lapierre. He fell to 22 because of a neck/head injury that limited him to 19 QMJHL games for Chicoutimi last year. He has started strong this season.
Fletcher said the Caps taking Lapierre had “no impact” on the Flyers, hinting they weren’t going to draft him if he was available.
“We were very, very happy with Tyson Foerster and excited he was still there at 23,” Fletcher said.
Lapierre was ranked No. 2 in the draft by Button before his injury.
The Flyers went heavy on defensemen in their previous two drafts, selecting a total of six blueliners. Three of their top four picks last year were defensemen, including first-round selection Cam York (14th overall), who starred for U.S. national team.
So it wasn’t surprising that they went after a forward in Tuesday’s opening round.
Rounds 2-7 will be held Wednesday starting at 11:30 a.m. (NHL Network). The Flyers do not have a third-round selection – it was traded to San Jose last year as part of the Justin Braun deal – and they have a pair of seventh-round selections, including one they acquired from Montreal.
The Flyers' next selection is at No. 54 overall. Chicago defensemen Duncan Keith is probably the best player ever selected at that spot. Keith was taken there in 2002, and he played a major role in three Stanley Cup championships.
Fletcher said the Flyers will take the best player available at 54, regardless of his position.
After Wednesday, the Flyers' next line of business is the start of free agency Friday at noon. With Matt Niskanen’s stunning retirement, the Flyers are in need of a veteran defenseman.
Potential unrestricted free-agent defensemen include St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo, Boston’s Torey Krug, Toronto’s Tyson Barrie, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Shattenkirk, Pittsburgh’s Justin Schultz, and Washington’s Radko Gudas. All are right-handed (like Niskanen) except Krug.
“There’s different ways to attack this,” Fletcher said about filling the void left by Niskanen’s departure, “and to his credit, he gave us early warning.”
With commitments to 18 players expected to be on the team, the Flyers have about $8.7 million in cap space but still must sign restricted free agents Nolan Patrick and Phil Myers.
The Flyers gave qualifying offers Tuesday to Patrick, Myers, and Misha Vorobyev. Vorobyev, 23, another restricted free agent, is playing in Russia’s KHL, and the offer enables the Flyers to keep his rights if he returns to the NHL.
Before announcing team’s selection, Fletcher saluted the late Jack McIlhargey, a former Flyers player, scout, and assistant coach who died in July at 68. ... As a freshman at the University of Michigan, York had 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) and a plus-9 rating in 30 games; he is expected to turn pro after this season. … The NHL has set Jan. 1 as its target date to start the 2020-21 season, commissioner Gary Bettman said. No date has been set yet for when training camps will open. ... Because of the pandemic, the Flyers will not hold a development camp this year for its prospects, Flahr said. ... Defenseman Jake Sanderson was the first American player drafted Tuesday, taken by Ottawa fifth overall. Down the road, he figures to become the first Montana native to reach the NHL.