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Foligno named sixth captain in Blue Jackets history

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- Nick Foligno was named the sixth captain in the history of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday.

The Blue Jackets had five captains since joining the NHL as an expansion franchise for the 2000-01 season but were without one the past three seasons. That was in part because leaders were still emerging from a crop of young players but also there was the lingering distaste after the past two captains, Adam Foote and Rick Nash, orchestrated trades to get out of Columbus and relinquished their captaincies.

Blue Jackets management took its time in selecting a sixth and Foligno was introduced Wednesday.

"We were waiting for the right moment for the right player," coach Todd Richards said. "It's a huge responsibility. You don't want to make the wrong choice at the wrong time.

"If it's not the right decision then it becomes another distraction to the team and the players. It's about getting the right guy. The players have to believe in him. The organization obviously does. There's a lot of factors that go into that decision and you don't want to make the wrong one because then it's going to lead to a lot more problems."

Foligno, 27, was the obvious pick according to general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

"We had a list of qualifications, if you want to call it that, and Nick's the one that kept checking off the list both on and off the ice," Kekalainen said. "He produces points and sticks up for his teammates; plays hockey the right way. Competes. Plays with a big heart but he also leads us off the ice in the community with saying the right things and knowing when not to say anything."

Foligno's third season with Blue Jackets and his eighth in the League was his best. He set career highs with 31 goals, 42 assists and 73 points. He has 116 goals and 279 points in 545 NHL games.

He was also named one of the captains for the 2015 NHL All-Star Game in Columbus and proved to be a popular ambassador for his adopted hometown during the weekend of Jan. 23-25.

There were other possibilities to be the Blue Jackets' captain including Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson but Foligno got the call 10 days ago from the front office that he was the chosen one.

"It's pretty humbling," Foligno said. "It's a huge responsibility but also a great feeling when you're looked at that way. I'm welcoming that. It's come naturally, which I'm most proud of. I've never felt like I was forced into it or trying to be somebody I'm not. You can't become a leader unless you have the respect in the room."

Foligno's first call upon hearing the news was to his father, Mike, who captained the Buffalo Sabres from 1989-91.

"He's always been the constant in my life," Nick Foligno said. "He's a guy who has led all his life. I look at him as such a great leader."

Foligno then tried to contact as many of his teammates as possible.

"It's important they hear it from me," he said. "We're such a close group that whoever was going to be captain the other guys were going to be happy for that guy. It's about moving forward and becoming the team we envisioned."

Kekalainen said assistant captains will be named in the fall.

Previous captains were Lyle Odelein (2000-02), Ray Whitney (2002-03), Luke Richardson (2003-05), Foote (2005-08) and Nash (2008-12).

Foligno was acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Marc Methot in July 2012. The Blue Jackets were coming off a season in which they had the worst record in the League so envisioning then that he would embrace his time in Ohio was unfathomable.

"Thank God I came to Columbus," Foligno said. "I really enjoy it here. It's been an unbelievable place to live and raise a family and to play.

"I really like where we're headed. I love this team and when I got here that was something I really wanted to do. I knew they weren't where they wanted to be, and I wanted to be a part of bringing respect and credibility back to this organization."

The Blue Jackets made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and Foligno scored the overtime goal to tie the Pittsburgh Penguins at two games apiece in the Eastern Conference First Round, which the Penguins won in six games. Columbus did not make the playoffs this season and several players said in their exit interviews with the media that a captain was needed, but Kekalainen said naming Foligno now was not based on results.

"This had nothing to do with how we played," Kekalainen said. "I said the whole time, when the right time comes and we get convinced about someone we'll name a captain. It could have been the middle of the season. It could have been the end of the season. It could have been the offseason.

"We reached a decision and that's when we named a captain. That was the plan all the way."

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