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Practice Notes: Fast-healing Foligno eager to get back to action

Blue Jackets' captain set to return against Kings; Vanek to make his Columbus debut

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

El SEGUNDO, Calif. - Nick Foligno enjoyed watching the Blue Jackets go 3-1-0 in their past four games, despite the fact he wasn't playing because of a lower-body injury.

The Blue Jackets' captain was also itching to get back on the ice because of those winning ways.

"It made me want to come back more, so I was part of it," said Foligno, who was injured Feb. 18 in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I didn't like sitting out and seeing that, but it's great to see the guys playing so well."

Foligno, who missed just eight days, was activated off injured reserve following practice at the Toyota Sports Center on Wednesday and is expected to play against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday at Staples Center (10:30 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go, 97.1 FM).

It was Foligno's first practice since his injury, which occurred when he checked Penguins forward Conor Sheary and fell awkwardly to the ice when Sheary fell into him. Things have changed a bit since that game, a disappointing 5-2 loss at Nationwide Arena.

The Blue Jackets won three of their next four games, grabbing back the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference, and they added four new faces to the locker room through waivers and three trades.

Forwards Thomas Vanek and Mark Letestu and defensemen Ian Cole and Taylor Chorney are now part of the roster, which is at 25 after Foligno was activated - including 15 forwards and eight defensemen.

"This is our team," said Foligno, who liked the deals Columbus pulled off prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. "This is the group we have going forward, and I feel real confident in what we have, in the depth and the guys we brought in and kept. We're pumped about what's ahead here, so it's fun to be a part of that."

Foligno stepped right back into his former role at right wing on the second line, playing with center Alexander Wennberg and Vanek - who met his new teammates with handshakes as they arrived at the team hotel Tuesday and got his first taste of a Blue Jackets practice Wednesday.

"Whatever the line is [Thursday], it might be different two shifts in, who knows?" said Vanek, who's no stranger to being moved to a new team at the deadline. "I'm just going to try to focus on my game, which is get to the net [and] tip pucks, but at the same time make plays and make my linemates better."

The hope for Columbus is that getting Vanek and Foligno into the lineup will help offset the loss of forward Josh Anderson, who's tied for the team lead in goals (18) with Artemi Panarin. Anderson, who has a sprained knee stemming from a hip check Monday against the Washington Capitals, is expected to miss up to four weeks. He'd been skating in the spot Foligno will occupy.

"We'll miss him, but we'll have people that need to fill in and we just need to move by it," coach John Tortorella said. "We'll miss 'Andy,' there's no question. He's a really good player, but he's hurt, so we'll just move on."

Video: Foligno speaks about health, trades and playoff push

NEWS & NOTES

I: HAPPY 'TORTS'

The additions that Blue Jackets manager Jarmo Kekalainen made prior to the deadline didn't draw a ton of fanfare across the NHL, but they did address a number of needs with quality options.

They also put a smile on Tortorella's face, because he now has some tough calls to make as far as which players actually get into the Blue Jackets' lineup. That's the case even without Anderson and injured defensemen Markus Nutivaara and Dean Kukan.

If the line combinations from practice Tuesday carryover to the game Thursday against the Kings, it looks like forward Lukas Sedlak might be the odd man out in that game. Sedlak has centered the fourth line for the bulk of the season and also logged some time at wing.

"There's going to be some tough decisions to be made, as far as lineups, as we go forward here," Tortorella said. "When [Anderson] gets healthy, our back end and forwards, there's going to be some tough decisions. I'm really excited about the push in the lineup, as far as competition for jobs at this time of year."

The plan for the remainder of the regular season is to play guys who earn their spots, based off the preceding game or games.

"I had to make a tough decision already, as far as the forward lines, when you bring another guy into the mix," Tortorella said. "And now it looks like [Foligno's] going to be able to play. There's going to be some tough decisions, and it's not always going to be that typical guy that's out. We're going to go on total merit, as far as what's going on each and every game, as we go down this last 19 games."

II: PLEASE, 'TORTS,' DON'T HURT HIM

Since the Vanek deal was announced, some have openly wondered how the offensive-minded veteran forward will mesh with the disciplined, two-way demands within Tortorella's coaching philosophy.

Asked about Vanek after practice Wednesday, Tortorella took the opportunity to poke fun at the perception.

"I think you guys [reporters] expect him and I to be fighting the first day," Tortorella said. "We were going to stage a fight out there, just so we could make everybody happy."

His reply drew its intended laughter, but Tortorella continued with a more serious take.

"He is a really good pro, and I have gotten nothing but great reports on him, as far as how he's handled himself. We're really looking forward to it."

Vanek is, too, because he'll get another chance to chase the Stanley Cup if he can help the Blue Jackets lock up a playoff spot. Like Tortorella, he was asked about the potential oil-water nature of their relationship, and Vanek doesn't think it will be an issue.

"I think we've all heard the stories, but then again, I've heard a lot of good things too," Vanek said. "Some guys said he's the best coach they ever had, as far as systems and all of that. I had Lindy Ruff in Buffalo for a long time, and he wasn't the easiest guy, you know? Very demanding."

Tortorella isn't the defensive-minded guru that he gets portrayed to be sometimes, but he definitely expects players to play at both ends of the ice.

Vanek, 34, doesn't see a problem with Tortorella, but does see a trait similar to his own.

"I've had all different types of coaches and I think as long as you care, you bring effort, I don't think we'll have a problem at all," he said. "I think he wants to win. There's a reason he still coaches and there's a reason I still play. We both share the same goal."

III: POWER-PLAY TWEAK

Foligno's return and the addition of Vanek to the mix prompted some changes to the Blue Jackets' two power-play units at practice.

Vanek was placed in the middle of the 1-3-1 setup on the top unit, playing in a mid-to-high slot area to act as a distributor of the puck and second body to the front of the net to chase down rebounds.

Vanek is flanked on the left by Panarin and on the right by Cam Atkinson, two guys who are known for scoring goals and peppering the net.

"I like it," Vanek said of his role in the middle. "I haven't played it too much over my career, but I think it's a good spot. I told Cam and Panarin, 'I'm not going to just try to stand in the middle for you guys.' I'll be kind of roving around and let their skill take over, and when they need me there for a quick give-and-go, I'll be there."

Foligno, who'd played that role prior to his injury, is now in the same place on the second unit, which has rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois down in front of the net to replace Anderson.

IV: FEELING WELCOME

Upon hearing he'd been traded to Columbus on Monday, Cole only had a couple hours to pack his stuff, hop in his vehicle and drive to Nationwide Arena for the game against the Capitals.

After helping the Blue Jackets win, 5-1, he got some sleep and then hopped on the team's charter jet Tuesday headed for a three-game, seven-day road trip against the Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.

"It's been a whirlwind, but there's no better way to get to know your teammates and get to meet them all and actually get to know them than being on the road," Cole said. "You can even go out and have a couple beers on one of these off days, and that's how you get to know guys. I'm looking forward to it. Seems like a great group."

Cole was originally traded by the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Ottawa Senators this past weekend as part of a three-team deal that sent former Blue Jackets center Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh. The Senators then flipped him to Columbus on Monday morning, which put Cole - a physical, bulky defenseman - in the locker room of a rival team from his time with the Penguins.

"It's always funny, you can hate a particular guy, just generally speaking, and then you talk to somebody that's on their team and they're like, 'Oh, no, he's a great guy. What are you talking about?'" said Cole, who won the Cup the past two seasons with the Penguins. "And we've had some serious rivalries with this [Blue Jackets] team in the past couple years. That being said, I get here and everyone's really welcoming, from the captain all the way down. [Nick Foligno's] been awesome. I'm starting to come to that conclusion, that hey, it's a group of really good guys."

Cole has also gotten a chuckle at some of the nicknames that have already started to crop up on social media sites regarding him and defenseman partner David Savard. They're each about the same height and weight, and both have tremendous beards.

"Puck Dynasty" and "Beard Brothers" have been suggested, along with one Cole spotted in a Twitter post, which made him laugh … "Lumberjackets."

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