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How much can Marcus Foligno improve his game under Boudreau?

Sep 26, 2016; State College, PA, USA; Buffalo Sabres forward Marcus Foligno (82) handles the puck during the second period against the Minnesota Wild during a preseason hockey game at Pegula Ice Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few years, there had been rumblings that a number of teams were trying to pry Marcus Foligno away from the Buffalo Sabres. After acquiring Foligno on Friday, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher admitted that Minnesota was one of those clubs.

“We have been chasing Marcus Foligno for a couple seasons now,” Fletcher said on a conference call following the Wild’s deal to send Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to Buffalo for Foligno and fellow winger Tyler Ennis.

In 2011-12, Foligno broke into the league like the Kool-Aid guy with 13 points in his first 14 games. The son of former Sabres captain Mike Foligno and brother of Columbus star Nick flashed some skill along with an exceptional ability to intimidate with his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame.

The years that followed were filled with ups in downs. In fact, on Friday once scout called Foligno,”The poster boy for inconsistency.” His play from night to night might not have been consistent, but his production was from year to year. Foligno scored between 18 and 23 points every season from 2012-13 to 2016-17.

Yet there are still lingering questions about how much Foligno’s play was hindered by the state of the Sabres.

During Foligno’s time in Buffalo, he saw coaches Lindy Ruff, Ron Rolston and Dan Bylsma get fired, the team sell off all its good players in order to draft No. 2 overall twice in a row, then fire another GM when Tim Murray failed to fill out the roster with enough quality pieces.

Foligno pinballed around from line to line. Of the 2,795 minutes he played over the last three years, the most he spent with one other player was 1,082 alongside Brian Gionta. And that was in a purely defensive role, starting in the offensive zone just 21.2% of the time and 40.1% in the defensive zone.

One intriguing stat surrounding the 25-year-old winger is the Sabres’ Goals For per 60 minutes with Foligno on the ice. Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly, naturally, were on the ice for the biggest margins between Goals For on and off ice, but Foligno was third. The Sabres as a team scored 2.00 Goals For with Foligno on ice and 1.78 when he was off.┬áThat doesn’t guarantee he was the reason for his team’s better performance when he was on ice, but it certainly means he wasn’t dragging his club down offensively.

From this HockeyViz chart, it appears that most of Foligno’s shots were coming from very close to the net.

The problem, however, is that Foligno didn’t get very many shots. He put only 4.8 shots on goal per 60 minutes at even strength, which was topped by nine other Sabres last season. But if he’s only shooting when he’s in close, the question is whether playing on a quality team would provide him with more close shot opportunities.

Over the last three seasons, Buffalo ranks 28th in total shots on goal. Under Boudreau, Minnesota was ninth in the NHL in shots for in 2016-17.

Whether Fletcher gets the player that he was pining for might depend on where Foligno fits in the lineup. There’s a chance he could end up as a third-line wing playing with skilled young center Joel Eriksson Ek and power forward Charlie Coyle or trade-mate Tyler Ennis.

Now, much has changed since Ennis suffered two concussions in ’15-’16, but when Foligno and Ennis played together in Buffalo, they managed an impressive 54.0% Goals For Percentage.

Point is: There’s a good chance that Foligno gets an opportunity to consistently play with skilled forwards because, well, the Wild have a lot of skilled forwards.

It isn’t a stretch to say that Boudreau will find the best way to utilize Foligno’s mix of size and (some) skill. Last season, players his age like Nino Niederreiter, Coyle, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund all saw significant improvements under the former Caps and Ducks coach.

Even with cap space being one of the benefits of the Wild-Sabres deal, the best player moved was top-four defender Marco Scandella. But both Ennis and Foligno will have a chance to change that in Minnesota.


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