Northeast: Foligno finding early success with Sabres

By John-Eric Iannicello

Photo: Rookie Marcus Foligno is off to a hot offensive start with the Buffalo Sabres that is the best for a Sabres’ rookie since the 1980’s when his father, Mike, played for that club (courtesy of

Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMI)

When the Sabres dealt power forward prospect Zack Kassian to the Vancouver Canucks for Cody Hodgson, many believed it to be an astute move for the club. It filled a need for more scoring and it gave the club the chance at nabbing a young, top-six center. At the same time, it was a move by a team that had a need for more sizable, power forward-type players just a few seasons ago.

Marcus Foligno was selected in the fourth round, 104th overall in 2009. That year, the Sabres wanted to infuse a bit more size and toughness into their system and they did so by selecting six prospects who measure at least 6’2. Kassian, who was the Sabres’ top pick that year at 13th overall, was expected to be the player leading the new ‘size movement’ on the Sabres roster, but his inconsistent play at the NHL level left much to be desired.

The 20-year-old Foligno has spent most of this past season as a top forward for the Rochester Americans in the AHL. Through 55 AHL games prior to his recall on March 10th, Foligno had scored 14 goals and added 20 assists. Even today, he remains one of Rochester’s top five point producers.

Foligno has been able to bring a much more consistent effort in the games he’s played in the NHL. In six games, he’s already matched the production that Kassian had through 27. Granted, the sample size is only a small glimpse of a bigger picture; few expected the young Foligno to produce as well offensively as he has so far.

Aside from his strong play, Foligno is joining select company with his five goals and two assists through his first six NHL games. Only two other players in Sabres history have scored seven or more points in their first six NHL games: defenseman Phil Housley had nine and forward Ray Sheppard had seven.

Much of his early accomplishments have to do with the success he’s had on a line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. All three players have been especially hot lately, and have done so by showing great on-ice chemistry. The trio has racked up an impressive 25 points since Foligno joined the lineup. In their last contest, the line combined for seven points in the Sabres 7-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I’d love to be playing with these guys for the rest of the year here,” Foligno told “Staff (Drew Stafford) is just another big guy. He’s really powerful, his stride is amazing and he’s really fast. He can also rip the puck. Then I’m just another physical guy that can finish as well. And Ennis, you can’t say enough about that guy. He’s a waterbug. When he gets loose it’s dangerous out there.”

While the possibility is there for him to rejoin Rochester (AHL) at any point, it’s unlikely at this stage that he goes anywhere. He’s just been too important to a team that needed an offensive compliment to the sensational goaltending of Ryan Miller.

Foligno and the Sabres continue their playoff run with a divisional match-up against the Montreal Canadiens tonight in Buffalo. The Sabres sit in ninth with 78 points, and are two points behind the eighth-seeded Washington Capitals.

Northeast Division Notes

Boston Bruins – Defenseman Johnny Boychuk was the Bruins nomination for the Bill Masterson Trophy. Forward Rich Peverley could be returning to the lineup soon, he’s joining the team for their upcoming road trip. Peverley has been sidelined since mid-February with a knee injury. Trent Whitfield was recalled from Providence (AHL), while Max Sauve was returned to that club. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli announced on Tuesday that the club has traded defensive prospect Yuri Alexandrov to the New York Islanders for future considerations. The Bruins will kick off their three game Western road trip beginning on Thursday night with a game vs. the San Jose Sharks.

Buffalo Sabres –
Tyler Myers will return to the Sabres lineup on Wednesday vs. the Montreal Canadiens. He was suspended three games for hitting Canadiens forward Scott Gomez from behind on March 12th. The Sabres recalled 25-year-old Travis Turnball on an emergency basis from Rochester (AHL) on Tuesday. The Sabres signed free-agent prospect Phil Varone to a three-year entry level contract on Monday. He leads Rochester in scoring with 43 points in 63 games.

Montreal Canadiens – 
Forward Travis Moen is expected to begin skating this week. He’s been sidelined for over a month with an upper-body injury. Mathieu Darche, Brian Gionta, Raphael Diaz, Tomas Kaberle and Scott Gomez are also names added to the battered and bruised list. Both Gomez and Kaberle are considered day-to-day.

Ottawa Senators –
Jason Spezza is anticipating his 600th career game. He missed Tuesday’s game against the New Jersey Devils due to an illness. Forward Zenon Konopka returned to the lineup after sitting out the previous five games. Senators’ forward prospect Jakob Silfverberg was named most valuable player (MVP) of the Swedish Elite League (SEL) last week. Silfverberg, 21, was the Senators second-round pick (39th overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft.

Toronto Maple Leafs – Phil Kessel’s 36th goal of the season vs. the New York Islanders ties his career high for goals in a season. Tyler Bozak’s assist in the game was the 100th point of his career. Mathieu Lombardi scored in his 500th career game. Cody Franson was a healthy scratch for the eighth time in his last 10 games. The Maple Leafs 5-2 loss on Tuesday was the teams’ eighth straight loss at home. Forward prospect Brad Ross signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. He was selected in the second round, 43rd overall, by the Maple Leafs at the 2010 NHL Draft.