|Senators forward Nick Foligno is off to a strong start in the pre-season, scoring goals in each of the team's first two games. He's hoping it's just the start of better things to come after a 2009-10 campaign that was scuttled by injuries (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images).
The fun is clearly back in Nick Foligno
Not coincidentally, the Ottawa Senators forward's play has elevated along with it.
It's still early in the pre-season but already, Foligno has served notice he's ready and willing to take a more significant role in the Senators lineup. The 22-year-old Buffalo native has goals in each of Ottawa's first two exhibition games and lots are folks are taking notice of his improved play. Most importantly, the guy who has the most say in how much he'll play.
"His conditioning is as good as I've seen it since I've been here," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "He was very focused over the summer and he wanted to come in and establish himself right off the bat. And I think he's done that. He's skating well, he's using his size and strength, he's strong on the puck and he's moving his feet.
"When he doesn't move his feet, sometimes he gets caught spectating but I haven't seen that yet this year and that's a real positive."
Foligno seemed a player on the rise two years ago, when he produced 17 goals and 32 points in 2008-09, his first full season in Ottawa. But injuries — most notably a broken right fibula — limited him to just 61 games in 2009-10 and Foligno's scoring totals dipped to nine goals and 26 points. Not exactly the kind of numbers that will get you a top-six forward role.
But after a summer of hard training, Foligno arrived at Senators training camp bigger, stronger and determined to push for a more significant role on the front line.
"I learned what I didn't like about my game last year and what I need to do better to prepare," said Foligno. "I've just matured as a player and that's why I think I'm a little bit more comfortable in my skin when I'm out there. I know what I need to do and I know how I need to play in this league. That's what I'm trying to focus on.
"As you get older, I think guys start to understand themselves better and for me last year, with the adversity I faced with injuries ... you just learn how to become a better pro and that's what I feel like this year."
Clouston is going to give him that shot, saying earlier today he'll likely give Foligno a chance to play alongside Mike Fisher and Alex Kovalev on the team's second line Saturday night, when the Montreal Canadiens visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., Rogers TV, Team 1200).
"I learned what I didn't like about my game last year and what I need to do better to prepare. I've just matured as a player and that's why I think I'm a little bit more comfortable in my skin when I'm out there. I know what I need to do and I know how I need to play in this league. That's what I'm trying to focus on. As you get older, I think guys start to understand themselves better and for me last year, with the adversity I faced with injuries ... you just learn how to become a better pro and that's what I feel like this year." - Nick Foligno
Friday night in Montreal, it'll be Peter Regin
skating with Fisher and Kovalev, a combination that's been seen often in practice sessions so far in camp. But Clouston said the left-wing position on that line is "not solidified yet by any means."
"That's where we talk about healthy competition," said Clouston. "We felt that Nick Foligno
had two very good games ... so he's probably going to get a chance to play with Fisher and Kovalev as well (on Saturday)."
Asked whether he can be a 20 or 25-goal scorer for the Senators, Foligno said "that's what I'm shooting for" in the season ahead.
"I was close a couple of years ago and I don't think it's unrealistic," he added. "But I'm not going to judge my year on how many goals or how many points I have. If I'm put out in situations that the coaches trust me to be in, I think I'm going to put myself in a situation to have that kind of a season."
Most importantly for Foligno, he's remembered what brings him to the rink every day. It's the same thing his father, former NHLer Mike Foligno, instilled in his two sons — Nick's younger brother Marcus is a Buffalo Sabres prospect — when both were youngsters.
"Absolutely," Foligno said when asked about the importance of keeping fun in the game. "That's something my dad taught me when I was real young. Just continue to enjoy the game and when it doesn't become fun, that's when you maybe have to think about doing something else.
"I love this game and I know I will for a long time. I definitely found the fun in it again and I've got to continue to do that, go out there and play hard."
He'd like to be a key part of a younger generation that fuels the Senators for years to come.
"Whether it's (Regin) or me together or on separate lines, we need to be the good young players," said Foligno. "Even Erik Karlsson
, too. We need to be good, solid young players and help this team win. I think you see that in other teams that have won in the past. They had good, solid young players and I know us three want to be those guys for this team."