EDMONTON — Warren Foegele has reached that place at which every NHL player eventually arrives. You can almost visualize Andrew Cogliano opening the door and welcoming Foegele inside, like one of those creepy sci-fi flicks.
“Hello, Warren,” Cogliano would say. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Foegele has his head around it now. The point-per-game junior player is, today, a third-line, penalty-killing, energy provider. Hopefully with some finish.
Sure, you may be saying, “Well, who didn’t know that already?”
Honestly, sometimes the player is the last to know. Like Cogliano, who still aspired to be a point-producing top-six centre, while everyone around him was thinking bottom-six, penalty-killing winger.
“Just like everyone else in this room,” begins Foegele, when asked about the journey, “We were all the best players on our teams growing up.”
As Foegele said that, he looked upwards and to his right at the nameplate above the dressing room stall next to his own. The name read: CONNOR McDAVID.
“Then, eventually, you’re not the best player on your team anymore.”
You might as well have a laugh, assess who you are and where you’re at, and then be the best one of those that you can possibly be.
That’s where Foegele is today, on a third line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan McLeod, the yoke of a $2.75 million (this season and next) hanging over his quest to remain a viable Edmonton Oilers contributor.
He’s swapped wings, from left to right, and head coach Jay Woodcroft has given him (for now) a regular rotation on the penalty kill.
“It’s just having a role, and then feeling like you’re contributing to the team,” Foegele said. “That’s something Woody and I talked about this summer, and he’s given me that opportunity here in training camp.”
Foegele, a bright and likeable young chap, knows that his name and salary have been considered a solution for the Oilers cap woes all summer long. He’s heard the trade rumours, and the fans/media who would move him along for a draft pick, just to ease Edmonton’s cap crunch.
“There's noise — but there has been since the day I got here. I’ve gotten that noise since I got in the league. My whole career to be honest. Like, I wasn't really supposed to be here, right?” he said.
How does he deal with it?
“You know, the only people that matter are the guys in the room, management and the staff,” he said. “If you listen to all those (outside) people, well, there’s a reason why we’re in the NHL and they’re watching us play, right?
“So that’s the mindset: It sucks to hear things like that, but at the end of the day, you wouldn’t be here if you were listening to them.”
Truer words have seldom been spoken.
So, let’s talk frankly about Foegele, the 26-year-old Markham, Ontario native who has arrived at the prime of his National Hockey League career, yet is still searching for a role he can sink his teeth into. He’s on his second team and has played 282 games.
As a player, this is who he we believe him to be:
Foegele is big enough at six-foot-two, 198 lbs, and skates well. He can get in on the forecheck, he can transport the puck through the neutral zone, he can drive wide, and he can give and take a pass at an NHL level for sure.
Is he as physical as you’d like, once he arrives at the puck? Would you want a third-liner with his size and speed to arrive at the puck with a more fight and determination, maybe a little more P.O.ed? The answers are: no, and definitely.
When he drives wide, does the puck end up at the net in a meaningful way? Or on the stick of a teammate with a chance to score? Not as often as you would like.
Scouts would like to see Foegele get more pucks to the net, one way or another. Drive it to the blue paint. Cycle it there from the corners, or behind the goal. Take Zach Hyman as an example, and use your size and guile to take pucks from the exterior into the danger zone.
So, this is the process, right? Foegele has done all of those things before — just not often enough to make it an expected part of his game.
Now, at $2.75 million, he needs to produce commensurate to that salary.
“I think it's just being consistent, right?” he said. “It's just playing hard and tenacious. And, you know, some of that is just knowing your role too. You kind of get an understanding of what the coaches want from you, and when you have that transparency, it's a lot easier to play.
“To stay in the league you’ve got to be consistent, and last year I didn't do enough of that. I take accountability for that.”
Woodcroft accurately assessed that as his tenure went on last season. By the time summer rolled around, he had a plan for Foegele this season.
It starts with giving him a regular role killing penalties, a big bite on a third line that should provide some support scoring, and a feeling that a player who gets all of that responsibility should be more ready to be at his best every night. Not just some nights.
“I see Warren as a good skater. I see him as a long body. You know, he's willing to be in the shot lane,” Woodcroft said. “I felt good when he’s on the ice on the penalty kill so he’s got a healthy opportunity on it through his first few games in the preseason. That’ll continue as we finish up the preseason. What he makes of his opportunity is up to him.”
And so goes the preseason.
You want a role? OK — here’s a role.
You’ve got five games to show that you can handle it, or we’ll give it to someone else.
“He understands the positions he’s in,” said Woodcroft. “He’s battling to make the team. He’s battling for his place in the lineup.”
Warren Foegele has arrived.
Beginning Wednesday, on Opening Night, we find out where.