With training camp opening today, the start of the NHL season is not far away. Having the prospects play in Traverse City the last five days was kind of an amuse' for the upcoming season. Now it's time to whet our appetites with some preseason action before the Buffalo Sabres hit the ice for real on October 9th. The opener is versus the Columbus Blue Jackets whose youngins took home the Traverse City Championship this year.
There are seven players up-front who will be in the top-six mix. Six of them have already been profiled with the seventh, RW Chris Stewart, due up in a couple of days.
There are eight more forward spots open and although size is prevalent, there are some differing styles and various ceilings to choose from when filling out the bottom part of the roster.
Of those, forward Marcus Foligno and his progress, will be a focus of the coaching staff throughout the preseason.
The Foligno name is revered in Western New York as Marcus' father, Mike, was a fan-favorite and brief captain for the Buffalo Sabres. The elder Foligno was a gritty power forward who's blue collar work ethic and child-like exuberance were embraced by a town that loved the game as much as he did. He used his signature move, "The Foligno Leap," to celebrate scoring a goal, something he used 247 times over the course of his 10 seasons as a Buffalo Sabre.
Marcus planned to use that move in honor of his father when he scored his first goal. But the goal he scored on March 10, 2012 in his second NHL game was a bit tricky and he wasn't sure he actually scored it.
Even if there were questions at that moment as to who scored vs. Ottawa, what Foligno did to get it, outmuscling Ottawa Senators veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar, piqued many an interest. In that game, Foligno was showing all the earmarks of a burgeoning power forward.
Foligno would really get fans drooling in a short span by posting 13 points in the final 13 games including six goals. He was part of a young line that had Tyler Ennis at center and Drew Stafford on the right wing. That line played together for 11 games in March. The overall stat-line for the three was 20 goals and 44 points with a plus-36 rating. They almost single-handedly propelled the team to the playoffs.
Although the team missed the playoffs, visions of Foligno as a young Cam Neely were dancing in Sabres' fans heads all summer.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Hall of Fame. Perhaps it was the NHL lockout that messed things up for him, but somewhere along the way he forgot what got him to the dance.
Foligno is not Neely. He's not John LeClair. He's a hard-working bottom-six forward who's scoring comes from bustin' his ass. Both former coaches, Lindy Ruff and Ron Rolston, tried get that through to him via healthy scratches, as did present coach Ted Nolan.
Nolan benched Foligno most recently in February against Ottawa, “He’s a young player. He has to learn how to play on a consistent basis," said Nolan at the time. "You can’t do it some time. He’s got to learn to do it all the time, and the only way you’re going to try to get a message to him, the only thing we have is ice time.”
That "it" was working hard, playing gritty and using his big frame to muscle the puck around.
Marcus Foligno was part of a Sabres draft class that was to eventually add some beef to a "soft-but-skilled" lineup. He was drafted in the 4th round (104th overall) in 2009 along with Zack Kassian (13th) and Brayden McNabb (66th.) Of those first three Buffalo picks, none of them were under 6' 3" and weighed less than 200 lbs.
That's what Team President Larry Quinn touted at the draft as the 2008-09 edition of the Buffalo Sabres was seen league-wide as easy to play against. As he stepped to the microphone at the Albright Knox Art Gallery during the draft, Quinn would proudly announce that the team was trying to address it's deficiencies, in part, with Kassian. Later they would add McNabb and Foligno into that conversation.
Foligno is the only player left in Buffalo from that class. Kassian is out in Vancouver playing a top-nine role. McNabb was traded to the LA Kings at the 2014 deadline. None of the three other picks made it to the NHL.
Eyes will be on him this camp and one would hope he got the message that neither his name nor his torrid NHL start are valid any more. It's a "what have you done for me lately?" approach the team will be using.
The Buffalo Sabres have a ton of bottom-six/depth players that they'll have at their disposal this season and more than a few younger players looking to make an impression. Even though Foligno recently signed a two-year, $3.75M contract, he'll need to work to stay in the lineup.
Foligno was used at center late last year before a shoulder injury ended his season, and with what they have right now, there's no reason to believe that the experiment won't continue.
Regardless of where he plays, he'll be expected to play the role of rugged, hard-working power forward. Nolan is known for getting the most out of average talent and maybe having Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier on the bench will help Foligno embrace his role an play within himself.
He has two seasons to come back to earth and if he can, Foligno will be a valuable piece to this team moving forward.
Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Matt Moulson/C, Tyler Ennis/RW, Drew Stafford
-Cody Hodgson/-Zemgus Girgensons/-Brian Gionta
RHD, Tyler Myers/LHD, Josh Gorges
-Rasmus Ristolainen/--Andre Benoit