The first thing you do before sitting down to write an article about a player is pull up their official NHL player page. Monday afternoon, after a five minute chat with Buffalo Sabres' forward Marcus Foligno about his promotion from the fourth line to a scoring line, I clicked on the winger's player page only to be taken aback.
Wait a minute. Marcus Foligno is only 22?
Must be a mistake. Hold on. Aug. 10, 1991 minus...what's today? Oh, so, carry the one...he IS only 22.
Marcus Foligno feels a lot older to Sabres fans than he really is because of his quick rise from juniors to the AHL to the NHL during the 2011-12 season. He set the Earth ablaze scoring 13 points in 14 games and posting 44 hits in 14 games.
And from that point on, he was expected to be Buffalo's version of Cam Neely. He was labeled a big-time scorer, who would eventually wear the “C.”
While both of those things might eventually come true, it wasn't all that fair to the former fourth-round pick to put that much on his shoulders before we'd seen him for a full season.
Since that hot stretch in '11-'12, it's been wild.
Foligno was forced to play in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans for the first half of 2012-13 season due to the NHL lockout. There, the son of former Sabres captain Mike Foligno, dominated with 27 points in 33 games.
When the work stoppage ended, he was zapped into a top six role where he was expected to re-create his end-of-2012 chemistry with Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis and provide a chunk of the team's goal scoring.
It didn't exactly happen that way and he pin-balled from line to line during the remainder of Ruff's tenure – with little offensive success.
When Ron Rolston was bumped up from Rochester, Foligno was reunited with the coach he'd worked so well in Rochester with. It's hard to say whether they were tight or not, but the 6-foot-3 winger grew and improved massively under Rolston from the time he arrived in Rochester to the time he left.
Things didn't go as swimmingly in the NHL as they did in the AHL. Foligno was benched for a game late in the season, then was used as an experiment at center.
Now he's on coach No. 3, at age 22 and in under 100 NHL games played.
“I haven't really had a permanent coach yet,” Foligno said after Monday's practice. “So you're not getting comfortable or being able to be honest with one person.
“At the same time, I look at like I've been coached by three great coaches in Lindy, Ron and now Ted. They've all brought something to my game and helped me out a lot.”
He has eight points in 27 games – only two of which have come since Ted Nolan's arrival. Under the new interim head coach, Foligno's spent zero time on the power play and has mostly been on the fourth line.
But Nolan has decided to change that. On Monday, Foligno was skating with Steve Ott and Drew Stafford. It's a spot the coach says he earned over the past few games.
“When I got here, I saw a big guy but I didn't see a powerful guy,” Nolan said. “He wasn't using his attributes to his benefit. He's a big man and needed to be more physical. He's been doing that lately.”
Nolan provided Foligno with more ice time against Montreal, playing 15:21 – by far his most since Rolston's firing.
There's still plenty of reason to be high on Foligno as part of the long-term plan. For instance, in his first 82 NHL games, he scored 39 points. Not too bad for a guy who's had limited power play time and three different coaches.
He's also exhibited a skill that few on the Sabres have: Puck possession. Last season, he was Buffalo's best possession player and the only player on the team with a full season to post an over 50% Corsi percentage (on-ice shot attempts vs. opponents shot attempts.) This season he's sitting at a mediocre 44.5%. But when he's played with Drew Stafford, that number is 53.2% in 91 minutes of ice time.
You might call that a small sample, but Foligno posted a 51.8% Corsi percentage in 234 minutes with Stafford last season.
The power winger has shown versatility and the ability to win faceoffs (a 50.7% rate career) – which is another skill Buffalo's middle men struggle with.
Still, he has to take it to the next level to be part of the plan. Foligno could take after a rugged forward like Ott, who has made a darn good NHL career out of playing tough, chipping in offensively and being good in the circle.
“He's consistent,” Foligno said of the Sabres' captain. “I'm learning to get that consistency in my game. I talk to him a lot about it. It comes with playing the game and getting experience. Looking at the way he plays, it's helped me a lot.”
We'll see how Foligno performs this time with a scoring line. If it doesn't click right away, though, remember to subtract 1991 from 2013 and give it some time.''
-Here's what all the lines looked like at practice: Moulson-Ennis-Girgensons, Foligno-Ott-Stafford, Adam-Hodgson-D'Agostini, Scott-Leino/McCormick-Flynn
-Nolan said Brayden McNabb will play Tuesday against Ottawa
Listen to Matthew Coller's interview with Foligno here: