Ottawa Senators' Nick Foligno (71) collides with Carolina Hurricanes' Jiri Tlusty (19) during second period NHL hockey in Ottawa, Tuesday April 3, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Rather than run from the pressure, Nick Foligno welcomes it.
Acquired from the Ottawa Senators in a midsummer trade, Foligno joined the Blue Jackets just a couple of weeks before a blockbuster deal that sent Columbus' all-time leader in goals, points and games, Rick Nash, to the New York Rangers.
Nash's absence most likely means the Blue Jackets have to come up with something close to the 32 goals he averaged or else develop a much less porous defence. The club believes it already has met that second goal.
Foligno, coming off a year in which he had 15 goals and career highs in assists (32) and points (47), is a prime candidate to help fill the offensive void.
"Obviously, I want to be that guy, so I'm honoured that they think I can do that," he said Thursday after he and 13 of his new teammates met for an informal but spirited practice session on the public ice next door to the Blue Jackets' home arena. "I'm going to do everything I can to fill that role. But I'm not going to put added pressure on myself to score goals. I know what that's like and I know it doesn't help you."
The 25-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., native knows he doesn't have to do it by himself.
"If we can do all of those things that are necessary to get around the net and be nasty in those areas and make it hard on the other team's goalie, we're going to score a lot of goals," he said. "It's not just me."
The rights to Foligno, a left-handed shot on the left wing, were picked up from Ottawa on July 1. Since he was a restricted free agent, the Blue Jackets quickly turned around and signed him five days later to a three-year, $9.25 million contract.
Then on July 23, general manager Scott Howson dealt Nash, the team captain who had asked to be traded, to the Rangers along with defenceman Steven Delisle and a conditional 2013 third-round draft pick for forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, defenceman Tim Erixon and a first-round pick in 2013.
Almost everybody who weighed the trade said the Rangers got a superstar and the Blue Jackets got several good, young players. Getting a third first-round pick in this year's draft will also go a long way toward turning around a club that had the worst record in the NHL last season.
Even hardcore fans recognized that the loss of Nash could be a crippling blow to a team that already had difficulty scoring. The Blue Jackets' 2.42 goals a game ranked 26th of the 30 teams last season.
Nash may be gone but the Blue Jackets believe there is strength in numbers. Foligno has been a solid contributor in his five full seasons with the Senators. Dubinsky and Anisimov have both shown flashes of having the ability to put the puck in the net. The club has several young players—forwards Derick Brassard, Mark Letestu, Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson—who might be ready to offer some more production. In addition, there are proven veterans such as R.J. Umberger, Vinny Prospal, Derek Dorsett and Derek MacKenzie.
Umberger, who had 20 goals and 20 assists a year ago, believes Foligno is a valuable commodity.
"He's kind of a guy who can do a lot of different things. He works hard, he's an aggressive player, he has great hands," he said. "He's a good two-way player and also, more importantly, he's a very upbeat, friendly guy and has an attitude that will rub off on a lot of guys."
MacKenzie, who has known Foligno for years, can't wait to see what the 6-foot, 210-pounder can do.
"It's not necessarily just about replacing, say, the 30 goals or 40 goals that Rick Nash scores every year," he said. "It's about creating some offence but doing it the right way. And I think Nick plays the right way."
During unofficial workouts this week with his new teammates, Foligno seems to fit right in.
When the trade was announced, he said he was excited about coming to Columbus and being a part of a rejuvenation of the franchise. Fans of a club that has made the playoffs in only one of its 11 seasons loved that he wanted to be with the Blue Jackets instead of acting like he had been banished to Outer Mongolia.
Foligno and his wife, Janelle, are comfortable in a downtown apartment. He said she fell in love with the city right away.
"She's really enjoying it here," he said.
Then, referring to his lifestyle and possibly even his new team, he smiled and added, "Plenty of good things to come, eh?"
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