It’s not rare for a first time All-Star to leave a pretty big mark on All-Star Weekend. After all, Dany Heatley’s four-goal All-Star performance that tied a Wayne Gretzky record was in his first All-Star appearance. Newcomers to the game can absolutely still leave a great impression on hockey fans.
All-Star Weekend in Columbus is a bit different, with one particular first-timer having his fingerprints all over Media Day at Nationwide Arena and getting heavy attention before puck drop at the NHL’s midseason showcase.
It’s been a whirlwind month for Nick Foligno. First he was named to the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game, then he was named captain of the home team. Everywhere you look around Nationwide Arena, there’s signs of Foligno’s impact on the Blue Jackets’ season and on the NHL All-Star Game itself.
That includes a giant image of Foligno that covers the Front Street entrance to Nationwide Arena, an image that ironically stared down at Foligno at the podium as he faced the media just hours before the All-Star Fantasy Draft, presented by DraftKings.
“I’m sorry for everyone who has to look at that,” said Foligno with a self-deprecating grin. “It’s a 'pinch yourself' moment. It’s pretty impressive to be around this and to be considered amongst these guys. I’m very proud of that. I feel like I’ve worked hard and I’m going to enjoy every moment of this.”
Foligno certainly has put in the work this season and is being rewarded for it. Aside from his six-year contract extension with the Jackets and the All-Star honors, Foligno is putting up the best offensive season of his career. Foligno already has 18 goals on the year, tying the career-high he set last season. His 42 points are only five shy of his career-high set with Ottawa during the 2011-12 season.
Those numbers are a product of a dynamic one-two punch Foligno has formed with line mate and fellow All-Star Ryan Johansen. With Foligno garnering a lot of attention as a captain, Joahnsen is another main media draw, in the midst of an excellent season and sure to be one of the more intriguing options for Foligno in tonight ‘s draft.
“Obviously I’d love to get (Johansen) on my team and some other guys who have played here along with guys I know,” said Foligno. “It’d be really fun because it’s a great atmosphere. But there’s a lot of guys I don’t know that I’d like to get to know better.”
At the same time, Foligno is fully aware of the leverage he has over his regular center thanks to the “C” stitched onto his All-Star sweater.
“Sometimes when (Johansen) is not playing great I want to pick him last,” Foligno said with a smile. “I don’t know if I want to do that to him. He’s the one who passes me the puck quite a bit so I don’t want to tick him off too bad.”
Despite the fanfare surrounding him, Foligno remains humble and down-to-earth and still recognizes he’s new to the All-Star experience. He’s ready and willing to listen to the players who have been there before, and that includes the suggestions of his two assistant captains in building a draft strategy tonight.
“I don’t really have one yet," said Foligno. “I need to talk to (Patrick) Kane and (Drew) Doughty at some point for sure and try to figure out what they’re thinking. I’m happy that I can’t really screw this draft up. I’m going to have a lot of fun. I’ll be nervous I’m sure, but I think it’ll be a good time.”
Foligno will take the same approach for the 2015 Honda NHL Skills Competition, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be taking a back-seat or laying under the radar. He doesn’t intend for his only appearance to be in a passing role during the Accuracy Shooting Competition.
“I hope I can get into something more than that!” he joked.
“Every kid who grows up a hockey fan wants to see this game," he said. "I’m excited, even though I’m playing in it, to be around the guys, talking to them, watching them practice out on the ice.
"I’m proud of it, obviously. I feel like I’ve worked hard for this opportunity and this recognition, but I didn’t dream of all this to happen. I’m just going to enjoy it. I’m not going to let it get to my head, I’m just going to have a lot of fun with it.”