It seems Nick Foligno‘s debut will come under the most ideal conditions that Sheldon Keefe can provide.
The Toronto Maple Leafs unveiled their major trade deadline acquisition on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner at practice Thursday morning ahead of his debut versus the Winnipeg Jets, indicating that he will begin his career in blue and white with the franchise’s two young stars.
“Might as well jump right in, right?” said Foligno, who was rocking his father Mike’s team-issued hat from 1993 when he took his spot on the podium Thursday.
So far no word on whether or not the retro fit bucket Foligno’s dad made famous will make an appearance as well.
Foligno steps into the left-side role recently held down by either Alex Galchenyuk or Zach Hyman. Galchenyuk has since been bumped back down to the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander, while Hyman remains out with a knee injury suffered earlier this week.
It was believed that Foligno was acquired to fill a smaller role in the middle six, and it’s possible he likely still slides into that function once the Leafs can truly optimize their lineup. However, it shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise to see Foligno start with Matthews and Marner, as they have used the highly friendly top-line confines as something of a cushion for newcomers.
Joe Thornton began his tenure in Toronto with Matthews and Marner before sliding down into a support function, partly as a means to assimilating Thornton into the overall scheme.
For as a long as it lasts, Foligno will have a fantastic chance to build on his seven-goal, 16-point output so far, sharing the ice with two of the standout offensive performers of the entire NHL season.
Elsewhere in the lineup showed at the club’s morning skate, Ilya Mikheyev returns on a third line with Alexander Kerfoot and Wayne Simmonds, while Adam Brooks stays in the fold, sharing a fourth-line function with Thornton and Jason Spezza.
In addition, Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie will reunite on the top pair after a recent shake-up in the top four, while Travis Dermott will switch to the right side on the third pair, taking the place of the injured Zach Bogosian, while Rasmus Sandin stays in the lineup as Dermott’s partner.
There could be a postseason feel to the first meeting in a back-to-back versus Winnipeg for the first-place Maple Leafs.
The Jets are just four points back in the North Division with one game in hand.
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