I was searching for an English translation for the German Vordenker. Basically a person, often a scientist, who began or further significantly developed a new concept or theory by contributing epoch-making publications or comments. Translation services give out expressions that have more the connotation of thinking about actual future events or things to me, e.g. innovative business ideas/products or future studies. But Vordenker doesn’t imply thinking of future actually, rather new ideas outside of current paradigms. Also Vordenker is in my opinion especially used in a historical or biographical context, as you can only judge his influence retrospectively (e.g. times cited). A lot of scientists in German wikipedia are described as Vordenker in the first sentence while there seems to be no common english term in the english wikipedia.
Thought leader has a too imperative character.
Forward thinker implies to me thinking of future itself.
Key figure is too inexact.
Visionary means someone with new ideas, which possibly never have come true in retrospect.
Pre-thinker sounds like awkward & uncommon English. Is there a better known expression? Or what would be a good one regarding above constraints?
Update: See how german.SE thinks about appropriate synonyms