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Foegele flourishing as 'late bloomer' for Hurricanes in playoffs

Rookie forward grows into role as next man up to help Carolina reach Eastern Conference Final

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Warren Foegele viewed himself as simply the next man up. And the Carolina Hurricanes have been fortunate he was.

One of the surprise heroes of the Hurricanes' surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final, Foegele began the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the fourth line. A slew of injuries provided an opportunity and, by the time the Hurricanes were finishing a four-game sweep of the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Second Round on Friday, the 23-year-old rookie was skating on the first line and setting up Teuvo Teravainen for the goal that gave Carolina the lead for good in a 5-2 victory.

"It's been fun winning," Foegele said. "You don't want to see your teammates get injured and it's unfortunate that we've had so many injuries. The motto's been, 'Next guy up' and, lucky for me, I was given an opportunity and I just kind of rode with it."

 

[RELATED: Hurricanes will play Bruins or Blue Jackets in Eastern Conference Final]

 

That ride helped Foegele and the Hurricanes earn a date with either the Boston Bruins or the Columbus Blue Jackets in the conference final. Boston leads that best-of-7 second-round series 3-2 and can close it out in Game 6 at Nationwide Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Foegele's assist on Teravainen's goal Friday was his ninth point of the playoffs (five goals, four assists), most in the NHL among rookies and tying Erik Cole's record for most points by a Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers rookie in a postseason (2002). He is one short of Cole's franchise rookie record of six goals in a postseason year.

"This is a special time of year and special things happen and special players sometimes emerge," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "And, obviously, we need that. We were desperate to have that type of player and he's certainly that."

The Hurricanes third-round pick (No. 67) in the 2014 NHL Draft, Foegele calls himself "a late bloomer." With his 6-foot-2, 198-pound frame, he sometimes plays with a physical edge (his 22 hits are most among rookies in the playoffs) befitting a power forward.

"He reminds me of the way I played," said Cole, who settled in the Raleigh area after retiring in 2015 and often attends Hurricanes games. "I'd like to see him finish more hits. … He's a big body that skates really well and for me I think he can just lean on guys and use his body to shield (defensemen) from the puck rather than having to try to stickhandle through somebody."

Video: CAR@NYI, Gm2: Foegele's blistering wrister ties it

That Foegele is still learning to utilize his size and strength might be because those weren't assets for him when he was younger.

"I was a lot smaller than everyone else," he said. "Everyone has their own path. It doesn't really matter how you start. It's not a sprint. It's a marathon."

Growing up in the Toronto suburb of Markham, Ontario, Foegele played youth hockey alongside a host of future NHL players, including on a peewee team that included Travis Dermott (Toronto Maple Leafs), Sam Bennett (Calgary Flames) and Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers). McDavid's father, Brian, was the coach.

"We had a pretty good team that year," Foegele said.

But Foegele was still undersized at 5-7 and about 140 pounds when he was initially passed over in the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection in 2012. By then, he was playing for St. Andrew's College, a prep school in Aurora, Ontario.

From 2013 into 2014, Foegele grew six inches and gained 30 pounds. He was already committed to the University of New Hampshire when Kingston selected him in the seventh round of the 2014 OHL draft and had 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 34 games as a freshman in 2014-15.

"He was like this thin little kid who came in and everyone didn't really know what to think of him," said Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce, who was a junior at New Hampshire that season. "He was very raw. … I remember talking to a bunch of buddies. We all saw the potential and now he's really coming into his own."

Foegele left New Hampshire five games into 2015-16 to join Kingston and had 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) in 52 regular-season OHL games that season before getting 10 points (eight goals, two assists) in nine playoff games.

A trade to Erie on Jan. 2, 2017 provided the chance for him play on one of the most dynamic lines in the OHL with Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome (now teammates on the Chicago Blackhawks). Foegele helped Erie to the OHL championship and a runner-up finish (to host Windsor) in the Memorial Cup that season with 26 points (13 goals 13 assists) in 22 playoff games, including the overtime goal in Game 7 of the second round against London.

"That's one of the biggest goals he's ever scored and for our team it was huge," Strome said. "He fit in really well. He can play with anyone. He can play on the fourth line or the first line. He complements a lot of players."

Video: WSH@CAR, Gm6: Foegele spins in the slot and scores

Foegele, who won the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as most valuable player of the 2017 OHL playoffs, believes that postseason run with Erie helped prepare him for his first NHL playoff experience this season.

"It probably goes a long way with confidence," Foegele said. "The playoffs is a lot different game than the regular season. It's a lot more competitive and a little bit grittier and you just know the stakes are higher that you don't really have the time to make an error out there."

So after getting 15 points (10 goals, five assists) in 77 regular-season games with the Hurricanes, Foegele was ready when forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland were injured in the first period of Game 3 of the first round against the Washington Capitals.

Foegele stepped up with two goals and an assist in a 5-0 win that sparked Carolina's comeback from down 2-0 in the best-of-7 series. The Hurricanes won it in seven games with Foegele getting six points (four goals, two assists).

He scored another big goal in the Hurricanes' 2-1 win in Game 2 against the Islanders, beating goalie Robin Lehner from the right circle 17 seconds into the third period to tie the game 1-1. Nino Niederreiter scored the winning goal on a deflection 48 seconds later.

"At this time of year, you need everybody scoring if you're going to win and Foegele has been instrumental for us," Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. "He's scored a lot of big goals early for us and he's going to need to continue to do that."

After playing alongside Foegele in Erie and seeing his drive, Stome is not surprised by any of this.

"He's just ultracompetitive," Strome said. "He doesn't want to lose at anything. When we play Ping-Pong or mini sticks or golf or anything, he doesn't want to lose. That's just the type of guy he is, and I think that's helping him in these playoffs."

Having played against Foegele on the Ping-Pong table in the Hurricanes locker room, Svechnikov confirms at least part of Strome's assessment.

"I mean, he doesn't like losing," Svechnikov said, laughing. "But he's not really good at Ping-Pong."

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