From Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer /

A year ago at this time, Philadelphia Flyers right wing prospect Tyson Foerster seemed to be on the fast-track to the National Hockey League. He’d shown considerable promise in the American Hockey League for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign (10 goals and 17 points in 24 games), He later got a look in a couple of NHL preseason games for the Flyers before being assigned to the Phantoms.

In hockey, things can change fast. The Flyers’ 2020 first-round pick (23rd overall) missed most of the 2021-22 season due to an early-season shoulder injury that required surgery. When he returned late in the season, he spent the rest of the campaign back with his junior team, the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts.

 Foerster struggled out of the gates for Ian Laperriere’s Phantoms squad in nine games this season prior to the injury. The Phantoms as a whole struggled to score, and the sniping winger was pressing. He posted a pair of goals and three points in nine games and was saddled with a minus-seven traditional plus-minus rating in that span.

“I only got to play in eight games (before getting injured), so I didn’t really get the real feel of it. For those games, it was tougher. I don’t know; it was just a tough-go really for the start of the season for us down at Lehigh,” Foerster said. 

Through the first eight games of the AHL season, the Phantoms owned just a single win (1-6-1). Foerster was named the third-star of the night in a 4-0 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, scoring his second goal of the season and registering seven shots on goal in a 4-0 victory. The marker, a power play tally set up by Cam York and Morgan Frost, represented one of the few highlights for the Phantoms in the early part of the season.

On Nov. 6, the Phantoms traveled to the Bojangles Coliseum to take on the Charlotte Checkers. At 13:06 of the first period, with Lehigh Valley trailing 3-0 (on the way to a 7-3 defeat), the Phantoms went on a 5-on-3 power play. Little did Foerster realize that he was about to skate his final AHL shift of the 2021-22 season.

“It was a big fluke. Maybe I should have scored on that before it happened. I think I was diving for the puck to try and keep it in. I think my elbow hit the ice before my body did and it just popped out. It hurt for a bit. I continued playing and then I was like I don’t think something is right. Went and got it looked at,” Foerster recalled.

The medical news was bad: Foerster had a tear in his shoulder and would have to undergo surgery. There was a chance he could miss the rest of the season. To his credit, the player was very diligent in his rehabilitation.

” I would probably say after four or five months I started to feel pretty good and wanting to get back out there,” Foerster said. 

” I was with Kjell Samuelsson and Slava [Kuznetsov], the skating coach because I wasn’t able to use stick handle or use a stick or anything. I was actually on the ice skating here during that time until I could start stick handling and shooting.”

Assigned to the OHL, Foerster joined the Barrie lineup on March 25 in Oshawa. He was ultimately able to dress in 13 OHL regular season games for the Colts (6g, 11 points) plus six playoff games (1g, four points). Apart from one particularly dominant outing on April 3 in which he recorded a hat trick, Foerster was playing catch-up in terms of regaining his timing and game conditioning. He was not truly 100 percent yet.

Over the course of his injury rehab and the offseason to date, Foerster has continued to work on his skating — the primary factor that caused him to drop to 23rd in the 2020 NHL Draft despite his dynamic overall offensive skill set and a fearsome shot, He has worked out hard in the gym and his shoulder is finally back to full strength along with his confidence,

 “Just getting stronger here. I’ve been here the whole summer so far, so working out with these guys training and working on my legs. That is what I really need to work on. Getting those stronger will help my skating. In the summer, I started working out and I was like this is okay, [the shoulder is] a hundred percent now, I should be good to go,” Foerster said.

The Flyers’ staff has taken notice of Foerster’s conditioning level. He is bigger and stronger than he was even one year ago, and he’s added a little more explosiveness on the ice.

“Totally different. It’s a pro body now. You can tell he’s gained some weight. He looks stronger, he’s leaned out for me. He was never heavy, but you can look at a player over the last 3 or 4 months, I see a huge difference in his physique and the way he carries himself. He’s eating properly. It’s very noticeable because I haven’t seen him in 3 or 4 months.” said Mike O’Connnell, the Flyers Senior Advisor to Chuck Fletcher on matters of Player Development.

“Again, he had a difficult year last year with injuries. He’s obviously feeling good about himself. He has to be feeling good about the way he is physically right. Hopefully, everything goes smoothly for him and he competes for a job here in Philadelphia. That’s the goal, he’s a young prospect. He’s suffered some injuries, but let’s hope he’s on the right path right, that he continues to build strength and confidence, so that he’s on the ice here next year in Philadelphia.”

The AHL was somewhat watered down in 2020-21 due to roster attrition from NHL Taxi Squads, an influx of CHL-affiliated teenagers (including Foerster) due to delays or cancellations of CHL seasons, and an entirely intra-division shortened schedule with no Calder Cup playoffs being held. Unfortunately, Foerster scarcely had time to adapt last season to the higher difficulty of opposition before he was lost for most of this past season.

Although he has 33 games of AHL experience due to the pandemic-driven relaxation of the CHL/AHL minimum age rule for AHL eligibility, Foerster will officially be in the first season of his NHL Entry Level contract in 2022-23. 

He turned 20 on Jan. 18. Foerster still has work to do in improving the consistency of his overall game and continuing to refine his skating. The player’s one-timer is first rate, and he also has underrated anticipation and ice vision.

Foerster may begin the 2022-23 season in the AHL. However, it’s his ambition to push for an NHL roster spot sooner rather than later. 

” I know the bigger picture is I have to work and get my shoulders healthy now, so I can be ready to go in the future,” Foerster said. “You are always coming here and trying to make the big squad. That’s what I’m trying to do.”