Case Study: Assessing Marcus Foligno’s Defensive Game

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 20: Minnesota Wild Left Wing Marcus Foligno (17) scores verses the Montreal Canadians on October 20, 2019, at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, MN. (Photo by Bryan Singer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 20: Minnesota Wild Left Wing Marcus Foligno (17) scores verses the Montreal Canadians on October 20, 2019, at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, MN. (Photo by Bryan Singer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Marcus Foligno is getting paid $2.875 million annually. For many, it may be seen as a lucrative contract for a bottom-six forward who had a career-high 25 points this season.

What makes the 29-year-old former fourth-round pick so valuable?

It is way more than just his physical play and his locker room presence. It is his substantial defensive play which makes him so increasingly valuable. It is this very reason why his market value is just over $7.5 million, according to Dom Luszcyszyn of the Athletic.

What does Foligno do specifically to be such an elite defensive player?

“Honestly, I think the biggest thing for me was to anticipate plays. I think I like to read a lot of good players in this league and see what their tendencies are and what their skills are of attacking the zone and what I can do to help my four other guys on the ice that I play with,” Foligno said as he answered my question in Sarah McLellan’s live question and answer when Foligno was in the bubble earlier this September.

The Wild are known for their superior defensive play and hold one of the best defensive cores league-wide. There were many strong defensive players this season, but if the Minnesota Wild had a Selke award, Marcus Foligno would win the honor for his stellar play.

Foligno ranked second among forwards on the Wild this season in time on ice while shorthanded. He is a mainstay on the penalty kill, but it goes much further than that. Whether it is Bruce Boudreau or Dean Evason, his coaches have immense trust and respect for the hardworking forward.

If there was a single characteristic to describe Foligno, it is the 100% effort he gives on a shift-to-shift basis.

“I think it’s something that has grown on me, I didn’t just become a good defensive forward in this league. It’s something that I had to get better with and know and understand the role and how to be useful in this league and to a team,” Foligno stated.

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Good is a massive understatement. There is no doubt that he has mastered his role and is more than useful for the Wild.

Foligno is deployed on the ice as a dependable asset. He ranked fourth on the Wild in time on ice percentage against elite competition, behind only the youngsters known as the GEEK line. For a primarily fourth-line winger, that speaks volumes.

“If you can play against the top guys in this league, you’re going to get a lot of minutes and you’re going to be an important part of any team,” Foligno explained.

He most importantly has become an integral part of the Wild’s defensive structure. Foligno was first among forwards on the Wild in goals against per hour. Likewise, looking at an even better metric, he ranked second in expected goals against per hour. Foligno held a 51.07 Corsi for percentage this season while maintaining his position in first among forwards on the Wild in Corsi against per hour.

Another interesting and convincing data point is the Wild’s shot quantity against while Foligno is on the ice. When Foligno is on the ice, the Wild allow fewer shots than the league average around the net, in the slot, and the inner part of the face-off circle. The quantity of shots is merely driven from the perimeter and the point.

While the Wild are a solid defensive team with or without Foligno, he is one of the vital backbones of the structure of the defensive play for the Wild. His significance can be displayed as the expected goals of 1.84 turns to 2.28 without him on the ice. The Wild are simply stronger at suppressing shots as a whole but with Foligno on the ice, they can significantly limit the high-danger spots.

His ability to pitch in offensively more than normal this season was beneficial, but his M.O is using his physical presence to shift momentum and being a shut-down guy.

There is a legitimate argument that if the Wild were to lose Foligno to free-agency next year, their defense could be detrimentally affected. That fails to mention his influence in the locker room and his physical presence that is a facet the Wild lack.

Foligno is an essential asset to the Wild. There will be many who claim that he shouldn’t be re-signed since he will 30 years old. There is no replacement for Foligno, he is a special player that provides physicality, defensive prowess, and reliability while he is on the ice or in the locker room on a day-to-day basis.

"“To be a guy that can kind of be relied upon defensively and is something that I take pride in and you know we have a lot of great players that can play the offensive side of things, but we don’t want them always getting tired from trying to play against top lines too, so if we have a top-line like myself that can get some other guys that we have had before and shut those guys down, it allows our offensive players to get a lot more touches and a lot more kind of flow to the game and that can only help our team out more. Just something that I have always taken pride in and just that physicality play of being a shutdown guy.”-Marcus Foligno, Q&A with Sarah McLellan"

(All Data and Information Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick,
Hockey-Viz, PuckIQ, and Hockey Reference)