Marcus Foligno, probably more than anyone else on the Sabres, learned that Ted Nolan uses ice time as a reward and punishment. During the final week alone, Foligno bounced from the first line to the fourth to the second and back to the first.
The coach had his reasons.
“We expect big things from Marcus, so the expectations are going to be a little higher,” Nolan said. “We’ve got to push him.”
While the yo-yo treatment could be considered a valuable lesson on its own, Nolan and former assistant coach Joe Sacco supplemented it with lengthy chats. Buffalo hopes Foligno takes advantage of the teachings to become a consistent contributor next season.
“They’ve taught me a lot about what it takes to play in this league,” Foligno said. “They’ve been getting some messages across once in a while. If you’re ready to play every night, you’re going to get ice time. If you’re not, the ice time is going to slowly dwindle.
“I know this summer is a big summer for me. You have to be ready for training camp. I think that’s all they want from us. The standards are going to be higher, and they expect more right from the get-go next year.”
Foligno warranted extra attention because he has uncommon attributes. He’s a 6-foot-3, 223-pound forward who can play center or wing. He has the size to be physical and has shown a scoring touch.
The trick is becoming a player who can stick in the top six rather than bounce from line to line. Foligno had six scoring droughts of seven games or more, including a pair of 11-game skids without a point. Though he was second on the team with 206 hits, there were too many games he’d float by without rattling the glass.
“We had a nice talk about it,” Nolan said. “It’s not so much just running around and hitting people. It’s a consistent play we need from all players, especially the ones we’re looking forward to going forward with. Marcus is going to be a big part of this team.”
The 22-year-old desperately wants that. He was born in Buffalo when his father, Mike, played for the Sabres, so he knows what the town can be like when the team is winning.
“I want to be a part of that, and a lot of people do,” Foligno said. “Like Tim Murray said, the guys who want to be here and who care are going to be here. That’s what it comes down to.
“As a player that wants to be part of the future, it’s definitely getting back up to my ‘A’ game and being an elite player for this team.”
Foligno had seven goals and 19 points in 74 games, bringing his career totals to 18 goals and 50 points in 135 games. He’s learning that points won’t come every night, but the effort has to always be there.
“You’re not always going to have perfect games, but you’ve got to do something you’re consistently good at,” Foligno said. “That’s one thing I’m learning – to be a good hockey player – and once I figure that out, it’s going to help my career and help my game.
“You want to be contributing. You want to be a force out there.”
Foligno finished the season with an injured shoulder and is weighing whether to have surgery. Either way, he hopes to come back stronger.
“He’s a great kid,” Nolan said. “He has all the attributes, and we’ve just got to nurture it and grow it. We’ve just got to keep pushing forward, and once he gets there, he’s going to be a great player.”