It isn’t so much a matter of “if” as it is “when” for Binghamton Devils forward Nolan Foote.
Foote, who was selected 27th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, was acquired by the Devils in a 2020 trade deadline deal from the Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as an additional first-round pick, in exchange for Blake Coleman, who helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup.
It was the rare deal that clearly benefitted both sides, but while Coleman is a known commodity and a significant asset to any club, how defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin, who was taken 20th overall with the draft pick the Devils acquired, or Foote, will pan out ultimately remains to be seen.
At least with Foote, however, it’s becoming quickly apparent that the Devils have, at bare minimum, a future NHL’er on their hands. And, it isn’t if he’ll get there, but when. For now, the 20-year-old is working on improving his craft in the minors, but was asked if he feels like his first call-up to the big club is a realistic goal at some point this season.
“I hope so,” Foote told The Trentonian via Zoom after a practice at the RWJBarnabas Health Hockey House in Newark. “It was, I think, a really good decision for me to start games down here in the AHL. It had been so long, and I was fighting an injury for a long time.”
The Canadian-born Foote hadn’t played since representing his country at the World Junior Championships in December and January, sidelined ever since by what he’s called a nagging “lower-body injury.” In his first five games with Binghamton, he’s tallied one goal and three assists, and is hopeful that as he gets more comfortable in game action, more production and an opportunity at the next level will follow.
“For me, it’s been finally just getting back into it and starting to feel good again,” he said. “From the start of training camp until now, I feel like I’ve improved a lot, so if I just keep that going and soak everything in from my coaches and the veterans and keep watching the NHL club and learning their systems and learn the guys and all that, I think I’ll be up there pretty soon, hopefully.”
Foote looks to be every bit of his listed 6-foot-4 and 201 pounds – he often refers to his “big frame” – but shows more agility than your prototypical NHL power forward, even as he’s coming off of that lower-body injury. Improving his skating is something that’s been important to Foote, whose father, Adam, was a stalwart defenseman in the NHL for 19 years, and brother, Cal, is in his rookie season on the Lightning blueline.
“There were a couple times where I was working with skating coaches throughout the summer,” Nolan Foote said. “For me, I think it’s those first couple strides that I’ve got to work on, even if that’s receiving the puck, and I think I’ve got to work on away from the puck and being quick all the time and just keeping my feet moving. I think it’s definitely improving. It’s all huge, it’s fast at this level, and if I want to take that next step to the NHL, I’ve got to keep working on it because it’s even faster up there.”
Foote received a brief call-up to the taxi squad earlier this season, and says he received positive feedback from the coaching staff and team management on how much he’s improved since training camp, despite already being one of the organization’s most prized prospects.
However, while he’s anxious to get that first taste of the big leagues, he’s also happy to continue to making the most of his opportunity with Binghamton.
“I think it’s been going well,” he said. “It’s only a few games in, but I think the team has been playing pretty well. We’re a young team. And for me personally, I think I’ve been playing well, and I’ve got some good, veteran linemates, so that helps a lot. (The pro game) is definitely quicker, that’s very noticeable. The guys are definitely stronger. Being a big frame, I just want to use my body and protect the puck well.”