Some might say Nick Foligno is a second line player, some might say he is a third line player and some of us fall between these definitions simply calling him a "tweener". I personally have been a part of the latter group for quite a while but there are some things that are making me take more notice of Nick Foligno and have led me to believe he could be a legitimate second line option going into the future.
First we have to look at the organizations analysis of Foligno and his ability. At the end of season media scrum Bryan Murray named Foligno as a guy he challenged to be a 20-25 goal guy next season, this tells me that the organization is looking to promote him from within. Murray wants to slot Foligno higher on the depth chart, but is this due to his ability or the lack of alternatives? Lets look at the alternatives.
The UFA crop this summer seems to be quite lack luster. There are a few big fish out there with the likes of Parise, Parenteau, Semin and Doan; but barring signing one of them the pickings become slim afterwards. We also have to factor in Melynk's public discussion that he is looking to remain a budget team moving forward, he believes we can build a competitive team from within keeping his profits higher. That being said, if one of the high profile UFAs decided to come to Ottawa I believe Melnyk would open his wallet gladly. A man of his success knows that paying top dollar for top quality is a good investment. When it comes to overpaying for mediocre talent we might run into a hiccup though. There are a few names out there that have the potential to fill a second line roll but have question marks about their games. A guy like Kostitsyn has a somewhat bad reputation but could fill a gap on a team with a reasonably priced short term contract, but do we really want this type of person on our team moving forward? Other options are players that will be highly sought after on the market due to low supply, they will end up being overpaid for their services making them less likely targets for Murray.
So the UFA situation doesn't look that great, but at least it is better then the trade market at the moment. Ottawa is looking to simultaneously aim for the playoffs next season while building for the future. This means we want to keep our veterans and our prospects making little extra bodies as potential trade pieces. Trying to pickup a legitimate second line player on the trade market would mean we would have to sacrifice in another area of our team, and this might not be acceptable. Not to mention we would have to first find a partner willing to trade with us, and what team is looking to offload quality players without proper compensation?
We could trade some prospects for second line talent, but why bother when a few of them look like they may be able to fill the gap themselves. Zibanejad's 9 game tryout at the start of the season may not have proved fruitful in the score column but it did give us a glimpse of the fact that he has no problem playing at the NHL level. Silfverberg managed to dominate the SEL and came back to get a 2 game tryout during the playoffs, for a kid that was thrown into the fray without much preparation I believe he performed admirably. He showed that he could be ready to step in as soon as next year. Mark Stone had a great year in Jr's and got his 1 game tryout, scoring an assist on the game winning goal to boot. As the underdog 6th round pick many will root for him, but I still believe he will need another year to work on his skating while others get their shot first. With the way MacLean runs this team I would believe that Silfverburg and Zibanejad will get some top 6 play and will be allowed a chance to stick there. Still, they are just prospects and have yet to conclusively prove they can step in and produce when we need them so it is better to have some insulation, this is where Nick Foligno comes in.
Nick Foligno isn't your prototypical second line player. If you asked me his game is closer to that of a third line grinder but his ability to handle the puck going up the ice, his aggressiveness, his tenacity and hard work have allowed him to increase his game beyond this label. A solid two way player who doesn't have the raw skill of other top 6 players. I remember a time when we had as second line center named Fisher who consistently put up 20 plus goals and 50 plus points and many still lauded him as a third line player due to his play style, but in reality you don't have to be flashy to be productive.
This is where Foligno has set himself apart this year. There are some troubling things about about his stats, like the inability to break the 20 goal barrier but if you look a little deeper there are some interesting things to think about.
105th tied - Foligno's rank among forwards in the NHL in points. If you simplify this and say the top 90 skaters are the first tier, Foligno is comfortably in the second tier of players (91-180) making him statistically a second line player by points alone.
4th - Foligno's rank amongst his forward teammates for points in the season. Even without a lot of top 6 play and barely any PP time he managed to be the 4th most productive forward on our team this year.
But where Foligno really stands out in the statistics making you think about his ability to step into the top 6 is...
Only Jason Spezza (60) had more even strength points in the season then Foligno (43). Michalek (43) was actually tied with Foligno and Alfredsson (41) was actually beat by him.
47th tied - Foligno's rank in even strength points amongst NHL forwards this season. This is the one that boggles the mind. Not only was Foligno able to break the top 50 but he did it playing mostly bottom 6 minutes. He managed to beat out Ovechkin, D. Sedin, Toews, E. Staal, Marleau, Selenne and more...
Murray's best bet is to roll the dice with Foligno this year as the front runner for top 6 minutes. An unlikely ability for us to land a top quality UFA combined with the subsequent overpayment of middle tier UFA's make the market an unfavourable one. The trade market could prove costly in obtaining a T6 forward when we have options in our own system making it an unlikely option. The likes of Zibanejad and Silfverberg will be there to push Foligno but ultimately Foligno needs to rise to the challenge and hold his own spot in the top 6. With his even strength numbers this past season I could see Foligno having another career this year if he improves in the off season, has consistently better line mates, earns more ice time and gets more chances on the 2nd unit PP.
Will Foligno be the first option for T6 winger next season? Yes.
Is Foligno really a second liner? Yes.