|Nick Foligno has returned to his natural position, centring a line between Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek. It's the same position Foligno played throughout his junior career in Sudbury (Getty Images).
Nick Foligno is having a blast taking a trip back into his past.
Still searching for the right fit at the second-line centre position, the Ottawa Senators are giving the latest shot to a guy who isn't exactly unfamiliar with the role. While the 24-year-old Foligno has been a left winger for most of his four-plus seasons in the National Hockey League to date, he spent his junior years with the Sudbury Wolves as a pivot man.
His natural position? Foligno doesn't disagree with that assessment.
"I played (centre) all the way up to the NHL," he said following Senators practice earlier this afternoon at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, where Ottawa opens a three-game road trip against the Jets on Tuesday night (8:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "I miss that position and I'm really thankful they have enough confidence in me to put me there. Hopefully, I can continue to do a good job."
If first impressions mean anything — and they often do — Senators head coach Paul MacLean liked his first look at this experiment, which saw Foligno centring a line between captain Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek. His faceoff percentage (5-of-8, 63 per cent) was second-highest for the Senators on the night, trailing only Zenon Konopka (5-of-6, 83 per cent), though it was Jason Spezza and Zack Smith taking the majority of the draws.
"For his first game playing centre in probably a long time and actually being committed to playing the position ... I thought he was fine," MacLean said of Foligno. "The faceoff circle was as we knew it would be, but he ended up on the plus side of it. All and all, it was good."
Foligno acknowledged the faceoff circle is an area where he needs the most work, and he's been eagerly taking pointers from Konopka — one of the NHL's most proficient in that area — Spezza, Smith and Jesse Winchester.
"They've all been great," said Foligno. "It's things (like that) you forget as you get away from it. You're not taking as many draws and your timing is off. Just little pointers like how to put your stick down and things like that and where to be on the ice ... they've been great with that."
While Foligno admits he's learned to "love left wing now," he relishes the new opportunity he's been handed and wants to show the Senators he can be a versatile guy up front.
"I want to be able to play anywhere," he said. "I don't mind playing left wing, if that's what they want. But I'm pretty happy they looked at me as a guy who can fill that role and I want to do a good job with it."
Around the boards
Tuesday night's game will be the Senators' first in Winnipeg since Feb. 8, 1996, the old Jets' final year in the Manitoba capital before being relocated to Phoenix. Nobody welcomes the trip more than MacLean, who enjoyed the finest years of his playing career with the Jets. He cracked the 40-goal plateau three times during a seven-year stint in Winnipeg, totalling a career-best 101 points in 1984-85. "As I've said all along, I'm really excited that Winnipeg's in the league and has their team (back)," he said. "The fans here treated me real good. The only thing, for me, is I miss the Queen." MacLean, of course, is referring to the famed portrait of Queen Elizabeth II that hung from the rafters of the old Winnipeg Arena, which was demolished after the MTS Centre opened ... Forward Chris Neil (ankle) and defenceman Matt Carkner (knee) both took part in practice today, but there's still no timeline for their return, "but it's a real positive sign that they're in practice," said MacLean ... Defenceman Brian Lee was excused from practice today for personal reasons.