It’s a mark of how good the 2015 NHL Entry Draft was for the Winnipeg Jets that Erik Foley isn’t talked about more. After all, the third rounder would be a top-tier prospect on most teams.
A quick run-through of 2015 reveals just how jaw-droppingly good it was for the Jets. Kyle Connor fell into their laps at 17th overall, and he’s on pace for 25 goals and 50 points as a rookie.
At 25th overall, they nabbed Jack Roslovic. Roslovic was leading the AHL in scoring before being recalled and is one of the best forward prospects on any team’s list.
Second-round pick Jansen Harkins has had a rougher transition to the AHL but remains in the Jets plans for now. After all, a setback in his first full pro year is hardly grounds to panic on a player who was considered a first-round talent.
After Harkins, the Jets took Michael Spacek, (scoring regularly for the Manitoba Moose in his first AHL campaign) Mason Appleton (top-ten in AHL scoring as a rookie pro who left college years earlier than predicted) and Sami Niku, who’s early AHL success could be the subject of an entirely separate article.
But between Harkins and Spacek, nestled in between Sergey Zborovskiy and Samuel Montembeault, the Jets stole Erik Foley at 78. I say stole because, as his career at Providence College rolls along, Foley increasingly looks like a steal.
With 13 goals and 28 points in 22 games, Foley leads the Friars in scoring. He sits just outside the top-ten in NCAA scoring, but it’s his play of late that has people really sitting up and taking notice.
— PC Men's Hockey (@FriarsHockey) January 10, 2018
Foley’s play earned him player of the month honours for Hockey East in November. He’s barely missed a beat since, keeping up his torrid pace in the new year.
Foley Mixes Skill, Sandpaper
Foley’s skill is evident enough from his highlights and point totals. He put up 34 points in 36 games as a sophomore last year and won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships with team USA. This year, his offensive progress continues.
What you may not know about Foley if you’ve never seen him play is that the kid plays with an edge. Always willing to be physical and mix it up, Foley is a known pest. Even in Jets development camps he was driving the net in drills and mixing it up in the scrimmages.
Watching Foley at the camps, I remember thinking Foley and Brenden Lemieux approached the game similarly. Both play physical and at times on the edge, and never back down. The difference is that while Lemieux has a slower skating stride, Foley is a speedster as well.
Foley lacks Lemieux’s heavy shot (and heavy frame for that matter) but his grittiness is no less evident. This is the kind of guy who crashes the crease in a 2-on-1 drill or thumps a fellow prospect into the glass at camp.
Foley’s reputation as a shift-disturber may have turned some teams off him at the draft. He had 80 PIMS that year, and that’s a lot for a kid in the USHL. On the other hand, he also had 27 goals. Among first-time USHL draft-eligible forwards, only Kyle Connor and Brock Boeser had more.
That skill took some time to fully transfer over, as he put up 19 points in 36 games in his freshman year. Now, having gotten the transition period out of the way, Foley is starting to fly.
Erik Foley with a beaut to tie things up in the second period. pic.twitter.com/xQPpdGRhJw
— PC Men's Hockey (@FriarsHockey) October 28, 2017
The Jets have a number of forward prospects who can agitate (again, Lemieux comes to mind). Foley’s skill level and speed, however, may make him unique among those would-be pests. Think Brandon Tanev but with better hands and perhaps even more nastiness.
With Foley set up for a great season production-wise and shaping up to be one of the NCAA’s leading scorers, it’s hard to believe he fell all the way to 78th overall. Hindsight is 2020, especially in drafting, but Foley was considered a shrewd pick at the time and has done nothing to convince pundits otherwise.
In fact, the entire Jets draft class of 2015 was viewed at the time as a brilliant group from top to bottom and not much has changed since then. If anything Foley’s stock has only risen.
What’s Next for Foley?
Foley could easily sign an entry-level contract with the Jets after he’s done this season in Providence. With little left to accomplish at the college level, he could jump to the Manitoba Moose right away.
We’ve seen in the past that college prospects typically have an easier time adjusting to the AHL than those that come out of major junior. Look at Appleton if you need proof. And the Moose, in line for a big playoff run, would love to add Foley.
Maybe Foley will decide, as Tucker Poolman did, to go back for one last run at a championship. Maybe Foley will want another year to develop into the best player he can be. It wouldn’t shock anybody.
Right now, however, there would be nothing lost for Foley to turn pro after this season. His best years still await, and they await in the pros. Let him get started with the Moose and get some playoff action in, and then after that, who knows?
Whatever the future may hold, Foley is on pace to yet again vindicate the Jets scouting staff. The entire 2015 draft is looking like one big win for them right now, and Foley is a big part of it.