It's been bantered about in the Buffalo media that Sabres left winger Marcus Foligno could possibly play a scoring role while also seeing some time on the top line. No doubt his powerful debut back in March, 2012 of six goals and seven assists in 14 games made a strong, lingering impression but placing him in that role on a more talented Buffalo club might be a bit of a stretch at this point in time.
There's not a fan in Sabreland who wouldn't want a 6'3" 226 lb. powerforward in a role like that yet it's hard to see the 25 yr. old with too much more upside than the 10 goals and 13 assists from last season. Foligno averaged 13:11 of ice-time with the Sabres last year with very little coming in the form of special teams and unless head coach Dan Bylsma adds to the :34 seconds per game of penalty kill ice-time, that number will probably stay the same at best.
Although the Sabres are thin with natural wingers they do have one bona fide top-six/top-line left-winger in Evander Kane and any number of centers who can and/or already have slid over to the left side. That includes Tyler Ennis who looks to be headed that way this year after missing much of last season because of injuries and Zemgus Girgensons who played most of last season in a top-six, left wing role. Buffalo also needs to squeeze what they can out of a former top-six winger in Matt Moulson who was signed to a $5M, top-six contract but found himself near the bottom of the depth chart nearly all of last season. And the club also has a very talented, natural winger in 18 yr. old Alexander Nylander who they drafted 8th-overall this past June.
Those are the hurdles Foligno is facing if he wants to jump into a scoring role.
Fact is the Sabres will be counting on him to play on a checking line this season and he could very do so on the fourth line while staying with his linemates from late last season--C, Johan Larsson and 37 yr. old RW, Brian Gionta. That line gained traction in late February and was the most consistent line for Bylsma the rest of the way.
Foligno is a big body on the ice and he's thrown in around quite often during his short career but the one thing he hasn't been able to do consistently is use his frame to put himself in a position for a scoring opportunity. It's something he's been working on and he got things moving in the right direction late last year. After a practice session in late March, Foligno told the gathered media that he believes he's figured it out. “I just feel a lot more comfortable out there,” he said at the time. “I’m using my size, playing smarter with moving my feet out there, trying to protect pucks as much as I can. With the confidence up now, I think I’m just trying to hold on to pucks and do things myself down low."
When Foligno came on like a hurricane in his first 14 games many had visions of Cam Neely dancing in their heads but it didn't take Foligno long to make them disappear. The following season he put up a respectable yet inconsistent 18 points (5g + 13a) in a lockout shortened 47 games then hit the sheet for 15 goals and 24 assists in 131 games over the course of the next two seasons. In the meantime his plus/minus rating went from plus-6 in 2011-12 to minus-4, to minus-17 before he pulled it back up to minus-5 two years ago. Last season he was one of only two Sabres players, Girgensons being the other, to be in the positive as he finished the year with a plus-4.
“He’s been much more consistent in playing a big power-forward game, playing a checking game, being a physical guy,” Bylsma said that same afternoon. “That’s what I think has been the best thing about him has been the consistency to it. It’s not just a once-in-a-while type of attributes to his game."
Foligno's immediate success gave way to struggles but looks to have rediscovered the player the Sabres saw when they drafted him in the fourth round in 2009 (104th-overall.) Good on him. He looks to be carving out a nice, bottom-six, defensive role on the Sabres team and it would seem as if he wants to be in Buffalo beyond the one-year extension he just signed. Although fourth line might be a bit below his talent-level right now, if he can relish his role and become a consistent force, having a defensively sound bottom-six winger that can get you 10 goals and 20-25 points bodes well for the Sabres moving forward. It's just hard to see him in a scoring role for Buffalo.
Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons/ RW, Justin Bailey
LW, Marcus Foligno / C, Johan Larsson
D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe
G, Robin Lehner