It was a highlight-reel moment he won’t soon forget.
But Nick Foligno
merely hopes the flashy goal he buried behind Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig on Thursday night is one more big point in his favour. One more argument for the Senators’ coaching staff to consider when it chooses the lineup that will suit up for the regular season opener on Oct. 3.
“That’s what I’m thinking every time I step on the ice,” the 19-year-old Sens rookie said Friday morning as he discussed a pre-season that’s seen him notch five points in two games. “Make it hard for (the Senators coaches) to send me away by working hard and sending pucks in deep. It’s a plus getting these points, but I’m happy playing the way I’m playing and the way (the coaches) want me to play.”
What’s also been a bonus for the Senators staff so far in training camp has been the performance of a group of young prospects. While Foligno was expected to challenge for the one available forward spot in the regular lineup, the positives don’t stop there.
Head coach John Paddock has also been impressed by the play of young blueliner Brian Lee and a pair of dynamic young Russian forwards, Ilja Zubov
and Alexander Nikulin.
Goaltender Brian Elliott also played well during a half-game stint against the Caps, turning aside 13 of 14 shots he faced in his NHL debut.
“Our young players are showing why they were drafted where they were and they’re going to contribute to the organization, whether it’s now or down the road,” said Paddock.
Lee, the Senators’ top selection in the 2005 NHL entry draft, is in tough to land a job against what he calls “an all-star cast” on the Senators’ blue line. But Paddock sees a future NHLer beginning to grow.
“I like (Lee’s) coolness with the puck, his skating ability, his passing ability,” said Paddock. “The things that probably got him drafted are the things he does best.
“But it’s really the start of a learning curve for him to become a mature National Hockey League player.”
Lee saw first-hand what he’s up against Thursday night, facing the likes of Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin and veteran Michael Nylander.
“It’s a big learning curve, and I’ve got just a short time to adjust to it,” said Lee, 20. “But the more games I play, the more comfortable I’ll become and hopefully the better my game will be.”
For Foligno, though, the opportunity is clearly now. He couldn’t help smiling Friday morning as he talked about the beauty of a backhander he fired high under the crossbar behind a startled Kolzig after being sent in alone by Antoine Vermette.
“You know what, it was just one of those plays,” said Foligno, the Sens’ No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft. “He’s a great goalie and I grew up watching him. It was pretty neat to do that. But I just want to contribute and any time I get a chance like that, I want to be able to bury it.”
Senators centre Jason Spezza
isn’t the least bit surprised by the rookie’s scoring touch.
“He put up good numbers in junior,” said Spezza. “It’s no surprise he can finish.
"When he gets chances, he puts them into the net.”