Maple Leafs' Nick Foligno gets firsts out of the way in successful debut

Justin Cuthbert
·3-min read
WINNIPEG, MB - APRIL 22: Jason Spezza #19 and Nick Foligno #71 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell MTS Place on April 22, 2021 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Maple Leafs wecolmed deadine acquisition Nick Foligno with a seat on the top line alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

At first it seemed crazy, but in hindsight the Toronto Maple Leafs' decision to start the season with Joe Thornton on the No. 1 forward line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner made all the sense in the world.

What better way to introduce a new contributor into the system? 

Or better, how else would you almost ensure a new player will instantaneously feel good about themselves?

Sure enough, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe dusted off the strategy again for the club's major deadline acquisition, having Nick Foligno start his tenure with the two superstar forwards following a week spent on the couch, quarantining. 

It went according to plan, perhaps as expected, with Foligno involved in an on-ice celebration twenty-seven seconds into his stay with the Maple Leafs. 

Just as Keefe drew it up. 

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You might notice that Foligno was mostly, or completely, a passenger for that goal, and the former Columbus Blue Jackets captain admitted after the game — a massive 5-3 victory over the chasing Winnipeg Jets, mind you — that he felt like one. 

"Mitch and Auston were carrying me in the first," he admitted with a smile.

But as the game went along, we started to see glimpses of what made Foligno worth a first-round draft selection in the eyes of management.

His best moment came in the second period. As Matthews and Marner were building some pressure in the offensive zone, Foligno managed to sustain it by landing a crushing hit on Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey. The hit created a scoring chance, but also incensed Foligno's old teammate, Pierre-Luc Dubois, who came after the new Leaf before taking out the rest of his pent-up aggression on Justin Holl, earning a minor penalty, and ultimately more scoring chances. 

Not long after, Foligno learned of one of the major benefits of sharing ice time with Matthews and Marner, initially appearing to be rewarded with an assist after sending an errant pass in the direction of Marner. 

His inaccurate delivery in the neutral zone cost him the point, but Matthews erased the mistake in a flash, rescuing the transition opportunity and eventually feeding Marner with a puck he could do something with. 

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"You can just tell they know a lot about each other and how they play the game," Foligno said of the chemistry between his linemates. "You just try to complement that. They don't make it too hard on you."

If the goal was to fully indoctrinate Foligno with all, or at least as many firsts as possible, Matthews and Marner completed the job in the final seconds.

Out to protect the one-goal lead with under a minute remaining — which would be considered another one of the newcomer's strengths — Foligno scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone after Marner won a battle in the defensive third. 

Instead of forcing a shot toward the open net with an on-charging defender, Foligno showed off his smarts, turning and spotting the trailing Marner for the lay-up that he clearly deserved for all that work in the defensive zone.

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Marner collected the puck before it could settle onto the ice after hitting the mesh.

Another token for Foligno to keep.

And for Matthews and Marner, the finishing touch on another successful initiation.

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