Since being selected 29th in the first round of the 2006 draft, Nick Foligno’s had more than his share of unrealistic expectations assigned. The unfortunate intersection of the team’s closing window of contention and management’s insistence that it would be open forever, meant he entered the lineup quicker than he might have in previous years, when the team had depth at all positions, and was expected to produce immediately on a team still flirting with elite status. One of Muckler’s last draft picks before the old man was unceremoniously set adrift on an ice floe, Foligno spent only 28 games playing in Binghamton, playing most of the 2007-2008 season in Ottawa.
Foligno’s been pegged as capable of consistently scoring 20 goals in a season, which is probably about the ceiling for late first rounders. He flirted with that potential during the 2008 season, scoring 17 goals, and even in down seasons displayed a grinder’s work ethic and dressing room character. Nonetheless, he’s better suited to third line work, playing against lesser competition in an energy role.
And yet, despite all reasonable expectations, I still find a palpable sense of disappointment in Foligno’s play expressed on the blogs. The notion is that this team didn’t, and doesn’t, need another Chris Neil (or Jarkko Ruutu); it needs scoring, and Foligno, the odd man out on the amateur’s depth chart, gets the leftover baggage.
To make the situation even more maddening, now that Foligno is being used liberally—again, due to playing for a thin team—he’s on pace for 27 goals and a career high in points. Some have written that he is “finally” starting to show the potential for which Ottawa used a 1st round pick, as if we’ve been made to wait an unreasonably long time for a player given almost no development time. And even when he aspires to insane expectations, his name is linked in trade rumours by fans eager to see the rebuild accelerated. Tired of the same old thing, we look ready to double down at the draft’s roulette table.
The most important stat, often overlooked I think, is that Foligno is only 25 years old and already in his fifth pro season. He’s saddled with veteran status while similarly aged players like Eric Condra or Colin Greening are given all the leeway afforded rookies. Expectations scale accordingly. If Colin Greening has a season similar to Foligno’s 2009-2010 (9 goals, 17 assists) I doubt there would be much uproar. Anything less than top six performance from Foligno, a player cut very much from the same cloth, and we’ll find him linked in trade rumors once again, his name invoked in the same sentence as the term ‘reclamation project.’ Forget that Greening was a 7th rounder and Foligno a 1st; for everything past the top 15 picks, probability skews all over the place.
Ottawa should not trade Nick Foligno. I would be entirely unsurprised if he turns out to be the third liner it’s reasonable to expect that he is (and let’s not underestimate their importance in a cap era), but you don’t give up on 25 year olds. I would be equally unsurprised if you saw Foligno start tearing it up with another team a season or two from now. Ottawa has invested the time and development in Nick (albeit at an NHL level rather than in the AHL); why not wait to reap the rewards?