It might have been tempting for Marcus Foligno to linger another 24 hours before signing his contract. Getting that deal done Thursday meant the Wild forward would be on the ice for the first day of training camp — and for coach Bruce Boudreau’s dreaded skating test.
Some of Foligno’s new teammates teased him about his punctuality Friday, after the Wild’s first on-ice workout at Xcel Energy Center. But the last thing the big winger wanted to do was delay his introduction any further. Besides, that timed skate at the end of practice turned out to be much less excruciating than the wait to sign his four-year, $11.5 million contract.
Foligno flew through the skating test, finishing at the top of his group in two of the three repetitions. His aim is to handle the rest of his transition just as adroitly. After six seasons playing in his hometown of Buffalo, he plans to continue the hard-hitting style that made his reputation, while trying to add an extra dollop of scoring as well.
“All the guys were bugging me, saying I wasn’t the smartest one coming in for the skate test day,’’ Foligno said with a chuckle. “But I just wanted the deal done and to get back with this group.
“I’m excited. I thought today went really well. [The Wild] wants to see the on-ice product they traded for, and I felt really good out there today.’’
It took 10½ weeks for Foligno, 26, to officially become a member of the Wild. On June 30, the team traded defenseman Marco Scandella and winger Jason Pominville to the Sabres for Foligno and forward Tyler Ennis.
In announcing the deal, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher called Foligno “a big, physical forward who is capable of playing a heavy game while also contributing offensively.’’ Nicknamed “Moose’’ by his family during a childhood growth spurt, the name stuck as he reached 6-3 and 226 pounds. Foligno puts that bulk to good use, finishing fifth in the NHL last season with a career-high 279 hits.
During the first day of camp, Boudreau slotted Foligno at left wing on a behemoth third line, alongside center Joel Eriksson Ek (6-2, 217) and right wing Charlie Coyle (6-3, 218). He expects Foligno to enhance the Wild’s toughness, but he doesn’t want his role to end there.
Boudreau said Foligno is capable of scoring more than the career-high 13 goals he had last season. The coach speculated that moving away from his hometown might help, and he noted that the Foligno family tree doesn’t tend to produce early fruit. Boudreau said Foligno’s father, Mike, and brother Nick both took time to reach their peak; Mike Foligno scored 355 goals in a 15-year NHL career, and 11-year veteran Nick is Columbus’ captain.
“He played with pretty good players last year,’’ Boudreau said of Marcus. “But he was moved up and down the lineup a little bit. I think if we can keep him with the same group, I think his potential hasn’t been reached yet.’’
Over the summer, Foligno worked to improve his conditioning and his shot. His objective this season is to get to the net more, which would help with his other aims of tallying more shots and raising his shooting percentage.
Yet Foligno has a clear understanding of his identity, and of the importance of remaining true to it.
“When I signed, Chuck [Fletcher] just said, ‘Be you,’ ’’ Foligno said. “I have to be myself, and that’s a physical game, not trying to be cute or nifty out there.
“I think my game is to make space for [Eriksson Ek and Coyle], being strong, being smart along the boards. But I want to grow offensively and contribute more points this season. That’s going to benefit this team.’’
Rather than fearing change, Foligno is relishing it. Players can sometimes get “too comfortable’’ when playing in their hometowns, he said, and he is eager to create new friendships with his teammates. He and his wife, Natascia, also have leapt into Twin Cities life, attending a Vikings game and checking out restaurants.
On the first day of camp, Boudreau complimented Foligno’s knowledge of the game and the better-than-expected stride he showed during that skating test. After getting his contract signed just in time, he didn’t want to waste a moment in making an impression.
“I felt a responsibility to bring a style to this team and make sure it’s starting from Day 1,’’ Foligno said. “The deal is done. Now, we can just play hockey.’’