Columbus Blue Jackets' Nick Foligno, left, and Sergei Bobrovsky, of Russia, celebrate Foligno's game-winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of a first-round NHL playoff hockey series on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime.
Forward Nick Foligno was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets at a time when the club was in a state of flux. Their identity had yet to be forged in sweat and results on the ice. As the time passed — and it’s only been a bit less than two years — the direction the club wanted to go has started to come clearly into focus.
The addition of players through trades and free agency created a buzz throughout the fan base, as well as the team itself. The icing on the cake was the fact that two rookies, forward Boone Jenner and defenseman Ryan Murray, earned a spot on the team during training camp in last September.
Jenner, playing in 72 games for Columbus, went 16-13-29 for the year. As the season went on, he gained confidence and embraced his role with vigor. Murray, playing in 66 games, went 4-17-21. He showed poise and a situational awareness that is seldom seen among rookies, especially defensemen.
Both did more than take up a roster spot. Both contributed to the on-ice success of Columbus as they navigated their way through the season, earning a chance to play in the post-season. Their energy and excitement at playing in the NHL permeated the locker room and the other players within it.
"I thought it was awesome to be a part of," said Foligno. "It was kind of cool to be in a situation where, I wouldn’t say mold, but mentor them a little bit. There were a lot of guys on the team that were doing that for them. And they were so eager to learn, excited about being here and wanting to get better. I think that they’re just good, professional kids at a young age. That’s tough to find in a rookie, a young kid.
"Sometimes, you get success early and it goes to your head or you don’t think you have to work as hard. These two, they just kept working. I mean, you look at Boone Jenner’s work ethic. It is one thing that will stand out above all else.
"To be so dominant in this league at such a young age is because he just never gives up. You see Boone and how he plays in the corners, he gets to the front of the net and really (expletive) other teams off."
Even Foligno was impressed with the poise that the young Murray showed during the season. "His poise at a young age is incredible, especially for a defenseman. For a guy who logs that much ice time, that’s impressive. The plays he makes, the plays he sees by slowing down the game, but also can play physical and strong."
For what these two layers added to the team, Foligno cannot say enough. He smiles when thinking about the way that both play the game and the fact they do not seem out of place. He knows they will be a huge part of the team’s success moving forward and this excites him.
"You know, it’s impressive, it really is," he said. "It says a lot about those two individually and I think the coaching staff did a great job of allowing them to play their game. I mean, sometimes you get coaches in the league that might hinder them because they don’t think they’re ready. Here they kept throwing stuff at them and they took it and ran with it. They were a big part of our playoff success this year.
"I’m really excited to see what the future holds for them. I want to be a part of that with them. I think there are things I can offer them and we have a great relationship with a lot of other, older guys. We’re all cheering them on because the better they do, the better our team is going to do. And that, hopefully, will bring us a Stanley Cup."
As well as the team and these two rookies did this year, head coach Todd Richards has earned the respect of the players and the organization. Shortly after the Jackets were eliminated from the playoffs, it came to light that Richards and his staff had earned contract extensions. Richards is also one of the bricks that President of Hockey Operations John Davidson speaks about and has helped to drive the focus of the team.
"I think Richie (Todd Richards) has done a great job with our team," Foligno said. "I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things. You have some good younger players and good older players. He’s found a way to find a role for each and every one of us, get us to accept it and get us to work. That says a lot about his abilities as a coach. He’s really good at communicating to a guy what it is exactly he wants out of you. There are no question marks and there are no grey areas.
"It’s the same thing with (assistant coaches) Craig Hartsburg and Dan Hinote. I really have to say a lot about Dan Hinote because he was a guy, for me personally, that helped to elevate my game. Sometimes the head coach has to worry about 20 guys versus an assistant coach that can come and talk to you and have more one-on-one time. Dan Hinote was a guy that really made a difference for me.
"Craig Hartsburg, too, I had him in Ottawa and really liked him there. I’m really happy to get to work with him. I think we have three really great coaches. And then you add in Ian Clark (goaltending coach) and Dan Singleton (video coach) and they do a great job of preparing us. I think it’s a great mix. As much as we like each other as players, we really like the coaching staff, as well."
Many aspects of the team are coalescing to make the Blue Jackets a franchise on the rise. From the front office to the coaching staff and the chemistry forming amid the players, Columbus has set its sights on the ultimate prize and finally has a plan in place to achieve that goal.