OTTAWA — Face it, the kids and the senior citizens are getting all the attention at the Senators’ training camp.
Is Jared Cowen ready to make the jump to the NHL?
Will captain Daniel Alfredsson be healthy?
How much difference will it make for the young defencemen to have mentors like Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar?
This is a season of transition, as though you hadn’t heard, an opportunity for several rookies to earn spots in Ottawa that weren’t available a year ago.
But sometimes lost in the talk about fresh-faced rookies and creaking veterans is the place for the Senator “Tweeners” — young NHL veterans like Nick Foligno and Peter Regin, just two of the forwards charged with picking up the slack left by such venerable departed players as Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly.
While Foligno is just 23 — he turns 24 on Halloween — he is entering his fourth Senators season, which ranks him an astounding fifth in games played among active Senators. Only Alfredsson, Chris Phillips, Chris Neil and Jason Spezza have played more games in Ottawa than Foligno’s 269.
And yet Foligno is still regarded as a young player on the verge of a breakout season — he feels that way himself, standing as he is at the corner of Hope and Opportunity streets.
“I have a chance to really be an impact player on this team, an important part of this team, and I want that,” Foligno says, while gearing down from his fourth day of on-ice workouts. “I love it here and I want to definitely make a statement this year.”
Oddly, the Senators could have rookies in the lineup this season — Colin Greening, 25, Erik Condra, 25 — that are older than the young veteran, Foligno. College kids tend to arrive on the scene at lot later than OHL products like Foligno, the former Sudbury Wolves centre.
Foligno can tell the older and younger rookies about the ups and downs of scoring 17 goals in his first full season, 2008-09, already with a playoff goal under his belt, then trying to take the next big step. In his next two seasons he failed to improve on the 17-goal output, although he did establish career highs in assists (20) and points (34) last season.
Sadly for Foligno, he was just coming into his own in late January of 2010 when he blocked a shot against the Montreal Canadiens, breaking a leg. The injury limited him to 61 games played and a career-low 26 points. Last season, he had his health, playing 82 games for the first time, if not his scoring touch, with 14 goals.
Still, imagining more goals doesn’t mean they happen. Foligno believes if he plays right, the numbers will fall into place without focusing on them. He got caught up in that sometimes, he says.
“If I’m consistently at my best, those (points) will come,” he says.
And what is Foligno at his best?
“Skating, moving the puck, getting into scoring areas and being around that net,” he says. “The year I had 17 goals, I feel I was around the net a lot more, maybe I tried to do too many other things and I’ve got to get back to that area. That’s where I’m going to try to put myself as much as possible this year, and hopefully that will allow me to do some other things as well.”
Foligno likes the shift to a more up-tempo style of game under new head coach Paul MacLean.
“It’s going to push me,” he says, “and I’m looking forward to that challenge.”
If Ottawa’s 28th overall draft pick from 2006 can help out some of the younger — or in some cases, older, but newer — players along the way, so much the better.
“Maybe we’re not the same age, but I’ve been around the league for four years now, I kind of understand the ins and outs of it,” Foligno says.
There’s every chance of seeing a new and improved Foligno, now that he’s married his longtime Sudbury sweetheart, school teacher Janelle Forest. Hockey culture suggests players are better, steadier, on the ice and in the room after they settle down, although by his own account Foligno was pretty much a bust as far as being a wild bachelor.
Spezza is a prime example of a more mature player and leader since he became a husband and father. Nick and Janelle hope to follow that path and start a family soon. Already, the couple is taking up the torch for the community. On Tuesday, Nick and Janelle launched the new 65 Roses campaign in aid of children with Cystic Fibrosis, with Foligno as the celebrity chairman of the drive.
“I feel more comfortable as a player and a person,” says newlywed Nick. “I’m more confident in myself. I guess if a girl can like me, so can everybody else.”
Contact Wayne Scanlan at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter@HockeyScanner.