Looking at Where Nick Foligno Fits in the Toronto Maple Leafs Lineup

nick foligno

The Toronto Maple Leafs made waves late last Sunday, acquiring a forward who can help them in Nick Foligno from the Columbus Blue Jackets. While there’s much debate to be had over the price paid, there’s no question that his acquisition will be beneficial.

These Leafs are team hungry to make their first deep run in the playoffs since the NHL lost the 2004-05 season to a lockout. Elite talent abounds and team depth and defence are fortified. With additional leadership, experience, and most importantly… versatility in the mix with Foligno, there’s real hope. That’s even after a mini-skid saw them get one out of a possible six points earlier this week against the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, and Winnipeg Jets.

So with the regular season winding down, let’s look at two different scenarios for how Foligno could work his way into the lineup.

Examining Where Nick Foligno Fits in the Leafs Lineup

We won’t know anything for sure about where head coach Sheldon Keefe plans to use Foligno until next week. Foligno must complete a mandatory seven-day quarantine after crossing the border, so he won’t be able to participate with the team until Monday.

With that in mind, Foligno’s ability to play anywhere in the lineup, as exhibited by Columbus’ roll-all-four-lines scheme, should be a useful asset to Keefe. But Foligno’s impact is going to be felt differently on a team that uses their top-six forward group much more heavily than Columbus. There’ll be a difference in his usage depending on if he’s placed in the top-six or bottom-six. Two different options require analysis here.

If Foligno’s in the Top Six

Projected lineup:

Zach HymanAuston MatthewsMitch Marner
Nick Foligno – John TavaresWilliam Nylander
Alex GalchenyukPierre EngvallIlya Mikheyev
Joe ThorntonAlexander KerfootJason Spezza
Riley NashWayne Simmonds

As much as it personally pains me to take Alex Galchenyuk out of the top-six, if Foligno’s gonna play there, he’s going to have to come out. The reason for this is the absolute dominance of the Hyman-Matthews-Marner unit. Hyman’s proved this year he can hang with the big guns, and not just as a complementary piece. Through 292 minutes of even-strength ice time, the line has a 65.6 expected goals percentage (MoneyPuck), which is fourth among all forward lines in the league with at least 150 minutes of even-strength ice time.

And as for projecting how the Foligno-Tavares-Nylander unit might do; the comparables on the Leafs suggest similar success on both sides of the puck. Tavares and Nylander this season have most commonly played with Galchenyuk and Alex Kerfoot, with their expected goals numbers being 65.5 percent with Galchenyuk and 63.2 percent with Kerfoot (MoneyPuck). With Kerfoot’s individual xG numbers being comparatively mediocre (47.5 percent), there’s an argument to be made that a Foligno-Tavares-Nylander unit would probably sit at around a 64 percent share of expected goals, somewhere between Galchenyuk’s and Kerfoot’s impact. Not half bad.

If Foligno’s in the Bottom Six

Projected lineup:

Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Alex Galchenyuk – John Tavares – William Nylander
Alexander Kerfoot – Nick Foligno – Jason Spezza
Ilya Mikheyev – Pierre Engvall – Wayne Simmonds
Joe Thornton – Riley Nash

If you’re a devoted reader, you’d be right in thinking that this is my preferred scenario. Those top two lines have put up nearly identical xG numbers this season. Both sit among the very best lines in the league in that regard. Those combinations have overwhelmed North Division rivals ever since Galchenyuk’s emergence – there’s no pressing need to break it up.

This isn’t to say that Foligno shouldn’t ever play in the top-six with the Leafs. Part of the reason general manager Kyle Dubas parted with this year’s first-round draft selection is Foligno’s versatility. However, when everyone’s healthy, this should slot in as an absolutely relentless attack of four lines.

Energy Needed

Being able to utilize two solid ‘energy’ players — Foligno and Mikheyev — on different lines within the bottom six is a luxury that hasn’t been afforded to the Leafs in recent years. In fact, both these third and fourth lines contain similar makeups. Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds have shown themselves as solid depth scoring options. Kerfoot and Engvall, albeit nothing special, are reliable complementary pieces that won’t be on-ice liabilities. In fact, that Engvall unit has already performed decently this year with a 55.3 percent share of expected goals (MoneyPuck). Considering a decent, but not great sample size of 51 minutes, there are signs that they could serve as an answer to the Leafs’ fourth line after losing both Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd on waivers this season.

There’s depth abound in the Leafs’ lineup. Enjoy it, let it be. And have an appreciation for the skill and versatility now found everywhere throughout these Toronto Maple Leafs’ lines.

And as always, thanks for reading.

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