(Note: This will be a series leading up to the start of the scheduled NHL season. I will look at each player who will definitely be, or could possibly be, on the opening day roster for the 2012-13 Sabres and speculate on their potential strengths and weaknesses during the year.)
It doesn’t take too much to rev up the hype machine.
After a series of injuries at forward, the Buffalo Sabres were left with little choice but to promote Marcus Foligno from the AHL early in March of last season. After a one-off call-up from Rochester right before Christmas, expectations for Foligno were not very high. He looked a few steps behind in that game against the Ottawa Senators, and was promptly optioned back to Rochester.
Then it all changed.
Never known as an offensive force, Foligno showed instant chemistry on a line with newly minted center Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. In the 13 games that followed, Foligno scored 6 goals and added 7 assists to finish the season with 13 points in 14 games.
It’s unlikely anyone thinks that Foligno will be a point per game player at the NHL level for a prolonged period of time, especially the Sabres front office. Foligno eclipsed that barrier in his fourth year in the OHL with Sudbury, but that was not his expected role as a Sabre. The scoring is really just a bonus.
When Foligno was drafted in the fourth round in 2009, the Sabres were in the process of “getting tougher,” a necessary transition as the game started to get a little tighter, especially in the neutral zone, with clutching and grabbing making a return. In the first round of that draft the Sabres took Zack Kassian, who immediately gave the team a more apparent nastiness. He was supposed to be the 0ne to add the sand paper while showing some offensive upside.
But it looks like Sabres general manager Darcy Regier saw something in Foligno before the rest of us, as he sent Kassian to the Vancouver Canucks for Cody Hodgson. Foligno started playing a few weeks later and made him look brilliant, delivering a physical style of play along with his bonus scoring.
Expect the Ennis-Stafford-Foligno line to be reunited when the season starts, with the team counting on Foligno not only for his physical presence, but some scoring as well. Until then, look for Foligno to play with Cody Hodgson in Rochester.
Prediction: 15 goals and 23 assists in the NHL, with his production increasing drastically if playing in Rochester for a prolonged period.