Certain players have blown us away with how well they have played so far and the whole team has been a pleasant surprise. Sergei Gonchar has nine points in 14 games after a tough start. Filip Kuba has already matched his goal output from last year and is the only Sens defenceman to be on the positive side of the plus/minus category. Chris Neil is playing his most effective hockey in years and has put up good numbers, making him a very effective player game in and game out. Milan Michalek is second in the league in goals and looks like a man possessed to start the year. The list goes on and on.
Noticeably absent from this list, though, is our de facto top-six forward: Nick Foligno.
Foligno continues to be a source of frustration. With a cap hit of $1.2 million a season, Foligno isn't a player anyone could argue is overpaid. I will argue, however, that he is overplayed (like Nickelback), and that he is a player who needs his role re-examined.
Last year, even though he got off to a terrible start, Foligno managed to set career high numbers in assists and points with 20 and 34 respectively. This year, 15 games in, he has three goals and three assists for six points (though three were in one game) and is being projected to score 16 goals and 16 assists over the course of the season. In August, I wrote an article about the potential top six, and mentioned that most successful teams require at least 40 points out of their top-six forwards. Interestingly enough, in that same article, I asked who would be the odd man out of the top-six and 54% of you said Foligno.
Yet here we are, approaching the quarter mark of the season, and the second line left winger job appears to be locked up by Foligno. His projected 32 points are what players like Darren Helm (third/fourth line Detroit), Paul Gaustad (third/fourth line Buffalo) and Marty Reasoner (third/fourth line Florida) managed to achieve last season.
The points are really not even the most frustrating part of Foligno's game. It is that he plays as though he is a creative, offensive, top-six style forward, when his skillset lies elsewhere. In an interview with Wayne Scanlan September, Foligno said,
"I have a chance to really be an impact player on this team, an important part of this team, and I want that," Foligno says, while gearing down from his fourth day of on-ice workouts. "I love it here and I want to definitely make a statement this year"
The evidence is clear in his game. Oftentimes Foligno will make the fancier play with the puck, instead of a simpler play that someone like Chris Neil or Zack Smith (both of whom are on pace to produce more than Foligno in a more limited role) would make. What makes Foligno such a tease is that occasionally, these plays actually work.
The problem is, these highlights are few and far between. This is what makes Nick Foligno so frustrating. He is inconsistent because he often opts for fancy, low percentage plays when he has the puck. If coach MacLean wants to play him in the top six, Foligno may be better off playing a style similar to that of Colin Greening on the first line. Making simple plays with the puck, putting the puck on net more often, and using his body to go to the front of the net more frequently. Otherwise, when Regin and Alfie come back, Foligno will likely find himself out of the top six, and into an effective third line role.
An interesting point in all of this is that while Foligno continues to be given top six minutes at even strength, he is not being counted upon to play a role in the powerplay that has been so pivotal to the Senators' success thus far. The Sens have opted to put Chris Neil on the second unit (and Bobby Butler as well) instead of Foligno.
Perhaps this is unfair to Foligno. It is possible that he's really just a good third-line player, as his stats would indicate he is. But when you see the highlight-reel moves he can pull off once in a while, it makes you wonder just how much more he might be capable of.