Warren Foegele repeated the question, a smile forming on his face.
“What’s changed in the last year?” he said. “Whoa.”
A year ago, he was one of the many names on the Carolina Hurricanes training camp roster -- No. 13, Foegele. He was one of the young guys battling for a roster spot, looking to hustle and compete and elbow his way in as one the 12 forwards as a rookie.
Team owner Tom Dundon noticed his grit and effort, all but assuring Foegele’s spot before camp ended. By season’s end, he had played 77 games, been used on different lines, killed penalties and been a contributor as the Canes advanced to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009, thrilling their fan base.
And a year later in camp?
“I’ve still got to make this team, earn my ice,” Foegele said in an N&O interview Friday.
Foegele proves himself in the playoffs
Foegele, 23, had some big moments in the playoffs and perhaps a pivotal one in the first-round series against the Washington Capitals, nudging Caps forward T.J. Oshie into the boards in Game 4 at PNC Arena. Oshie suffered a broken collarbone. Caps star Alex Ovechkin called it a dirty hit while Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, in his opinion, Foegele “barely hit him.”
Foegele, who was penalized for boarding, did not draw a suspension from the league. The Canes won the series in seven games, and the Caps, the 2018 Stanley Cup champs, were done.
Foegele’s two goals had spurred a 5-0 win over the Caps in Game 3 at PNC Arena and made him the game’s first star. He finished the playoffs with five goals and four assists in 15 games, with a plus-6 rating.
The playoffs can be the ultimate proving ground for young NHL players. So it was for Foegele.
“For myself, I think it was like ‘Wow, I think I can definitely take a bigger role,’” he said. “Obviously I have to earn that role, so for me it was building on things to work on this summer to take me to that level and coming into camp with the mindset to expand my role and not just be someone easy to replace.”
Foegele, a Markham, Ont., native, again attended the grueling conditioning summer camp run by former Canes forward Gary Roberts in the Toronto area. He returned to Raleigh with a different vibe about him.
“I really don’t think much has changed,” he said. “I know what I have to do here. I have to earn my role and still have to make this team. Everyone is fighting for a job and a role. My mindset hasn’t changed in that sense.
“Obviously I think I’m a little more comfortable in my surroundings, knowing some of the guys. I think I have a lot more confidence coming into camp, too, especially after that playoff run.”
24 games without a point
Not everything was a smooth ride last season. After a good start, with three goals and an assist in his first four games, Foegele soon had a stretch of 24 games without a point. It was stressful and he was pressing, but conversations with Brind’Amour and team captain Justin Williams made a difference, he said.
“Once the new year came I relaxed and tried to provide other things to the team,” he said. “It’s about staying focused and working hard.
“I definitely had a little bit of a roller coaster year but I learned a lot of things from that experience. I think it’s not worrying about the mistakes you make and just move on. You learn to have that positive attitude throughout the year. You’re going to go through slumps and stuff. It’s just whether you stick with it.”
Foegele stuck with it and enjoyed the ride. He was a part of some memorable victories and post-game celebrations, swatting the “walk-off home run” that irked Canadian sportscaster Don Cherry to the point he called the Canes a “bunch of jerks.”
Foegele has guys pushing him this year in camp, wanting his spot. Julien Gauthier wants to make the team. Martin Necas wants to make the team. And other forwards.
“They drive it, right?” Brind’Amour said of the competition. “The same thing last year, which I think is why we had a pretty successful preseason. The work ethic was there. The young guys, you know they’re going to do that, they have something to prove.”
Foegele began camp last week on a line with center Erik Haula and Necas. With Haula now injured, Jordan Staal has moved to center on the line. Late in Friday’s practice, Foegele blistered a shot into the net on a line rush, earning some stick taps from the guys.
“You don’t want anybody to take your job,” Foegele said. “For me, my game is about working hard and playing fast. I just need to execute my game.”
Note: Forward prospect Stelio Mattheos, who underwent surgery and treatment this summer for testicular cancer, was a visitor to the Canes locker room Friday. Mattheos, 20, was given a few hugs from former Charlotte Checkers teammates.
“Good for him,” Brind’Amour said. “You don’t want to get too far ahead of it but just happy he’s here and he looks really good. Hopefully that’s all behind him and he can get back to doing what he wants to do with his life, which is to play hockey.”
Hurricanes at Capitals
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington