Marcus Foligno is persistent in his search for a consistent game.
The 22-year-old forward finished the 2013-14 season, his first full 82-game campaign in the NHL, with seven goals and 19 points in 74 games. He knows he still has lots of learning to do.
“I know this summer’s a big summer for me and getting back to next year, playing a full 82-game season. You’re not always going to have perfect games but you’ve got to do something that you’re consistently good at,” he said. “That’s one thing that I’m learning, is to be a consistent hockey player and once I figure that out then it’s going to help my career and help this team.”
He broke into the League in a big way toward the end of the 2011-12 season, playing 14 games and racking up 13 points. He mainly played on a line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford and helped the Sabres make a run for a playoff position down the stretch.
Foligno then started 2012-13 in the American Hockey League due to the lockout in the NHL and he recorded 27 points in 33 games with the Rochester Americans. He finished the shortened NHL season with five goals, 13 assists and 41 penalty minutes.
He said he entered this past season in the best shape of his life and he played well in the preseason until a shoulder injury that he sustained in an exhibition game against Toronto forced him to miss two-and-a-half weeks, including the first three games of the regular season.
Foligno admitted right after the season that the injury did hinder him a bit over the course of the year.
My best games are when in the first period, I’m around the puck, I’m hitting guys and skating, - Marcus Foligno
Sabres general manager Tim Murray said during his year-end press conference last month that Foligno was contemplating shoulder surgery in the offseason.
Surgery or not, Foligno is looking forward to coming back completely healthy next season and to continue building on his game. He said he thinks he’s at his best when he focuses on his play shift-by shift – starting out strong and going from there.
“My best games are when in the first period, where I’m around the puck, I’m hitting guys and skating,” he said. “That’s something I’ve got to look forward to next year is doing that consistently.”
He was also a reliable penalty killer for the Sabres, playing an average of 1:07 of shorthanded time per game.
“For myself, it’s just one shift at a time and then worry about the next game,” he said. “That’s something I have to learn and do better with, but for the most part, it’s something that is a learning process and I’m ready to take on that role and make sure that next year, coming in here – that it is shift by shift and I’m working hard every shift.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan has said on numerous occasions that he sees Foligno as a future leader on the team and that he has great potential. When Nolan joined the team in November, he challenged Foligno to be a more physical presence.
At times, Foligno’s play earned him a spot on the top line. At other times, he was on the fourth line and had to work for more ice.
“You get rewarded. Ted’s good at doing that. He knows when guys are going and playing hard. He gives you the ice time so you want to be a player that always has ice time and takes off running with it,” Foligno said. “You earn your ice time here and that’s what Ted’s message is to us.”
Foligno knows he has to play a tough brand of hockey in order to make an impact on the ice. He finished the 2013-14 campaign second on the team with 206 hits.
“I think it’s expected of me, but at the same time, sometimes you don’t want to be that guy that just runs around and then hits guys,” he said. “You want to be in the right areas positionally. You’re going to have a shift where you’ll have three or four hits and you’re going to have a shift where you might be chasing the puck a little bit.”
Foligno is set to become a restricted free agent and while the Sabres control his rights, he knows where he wants to be.
“We’ll see how contracts go, but I definitely want to be here, if I could, for the rest of my career,” he said.