Three games into his NHL career, New Jersey Devils prospect Nolan Foote has handled himself pretty well. The team hasn’t rushed the 20-year-old, rather letting the forward develop his skills in the AHL most of the season before a late-season call-up. The three games he has played were each against a different divisional rival/opponent – New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. These are three teams that Foote and the future Devils will have to contend with year-in and year-out.
Foote obviously has the pedigree – his father Adam, a defenseman, is a two-time Stanley Cup winner and former NHL captain, his older brother Cal (also a defenseman) made his NHL debut this season as well. Cal (2017) and Nolan (2019) were both drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the younger Foote was sent to New Jersey ahead of the 2020 Trade Deadline in a package for Blake Coleman.
“I was shocked obviously,” replied Foote when asked what his initial reaction to the trade was. “My brother Cal is there and that would’ve been a great opportunity one day to play with each other. But it’s a business; once I found out I was going to Jersey and came here shortly after the trade, once I got to meet everyone, I was excited. So far I’m loving it here for sure.”
Nolan agreed with The Hockey Writers’ assessment that his path to the NHL is a bit easier in New Jersey rather than Tampa Bay – who are the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
“Yeah, I would say so. They’re definitely a veteran-built team and they won the Cup last year,” replied Foote. “Being here in Jersey, we all know it’s a really young roster and to get to play here is exciting and you know there is going to be a bright future here for sure.”
In his NHL debut on Apr. 18, Foote recorded his first NHL assist/point and two days later in Pittsburgh, he netted his first NHL goal.
Best Foote Forward
“I think the more he is able to play (at this level), the more comfortable he will get,” said Devils head coach Lindy Ruff after the game in Pittsburgh. “But if you look at his goal (tonight) – it’s a goal-scorer’s goal. It’s a goal where you one-time it from that side of the ice, on your forehand side; if he catches it and goes to shoot it, I think the goalie makes a save. That’s a goal-scorer’s goal.”
“I feel like game two was better than game one and I thought his skating inside the game was better,” added Ruff. “I think some of his detail work inside our zone, going up the ice (was better), and you anticipate that because there are a lot of things going on in the first game for a young player.”
The type of goal Foote scored is the type of goal the Devils have been missing all season and quite frankly, the type they have been missing for longer than that. There was no hesitation when Foote got the puck on his stick, he knew exactly what he was going to do with it and where he was putting it.
“That is accurate,” Ruff confirmed to THW. “When I referenced catching it and shooting it – we’ve had seam plays where we’ve caught the puck, we’ve hung on, we’ve released it, and the goalie’s made the save. I really feel that that type of goal has been missing from our game.”
Progression to the Pros
“Since training camp, I think I’ve been progressing and getting better,” said Foote who had 16 points (6g-10a) with the Binghamton Devils this season. “Being up here (in the NHL), I just want to take it all in, soak it all up. I feel like I played really well in Bingo, and I just have to keep it going, keep improving, take all of the advice I can, and just learn from everyone here.”
As a kid who grew up around NHL locker rooms, it was a lifelong dream of the youngest Foote to follow in dad’s footsteps. So what was he thinking before he stepped on the ice for his debut in New Jersey?
“It was surreal. It’s your dream since you’re a little boy when I was going to NHL games as a kid,” he said unable to hold back his smile. “All my life it was my goal to play in the NHL. The guys here are all great, the staff is so supportive here.”
Foote’s Future is Bright
The three games Foote has played so far, and whatever of the remaining seven Devils games he plays in are all going to be the foundation he builds his offseason training program around. He’s played against the Crosbys, Panarins, and Girouxs and knows what he needs to do going forward.
“It would be great to get a couple more games, that’s my goal and what I want,” said Foote, who doesn’t turn 21 until Nov. 29. “It would feel really good going into the off-season to get a couple of more games in at the NHL level before heading into off-season training.”
One thing that Foote has already identified to work on is the mental speed at which the NHL game is played. It’s a big step up from playing in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets.
“I think for me, as soon as I get the puck on my stick I have to move my feet and get going. I know that was one of my biggest things I needed to work on – quick feet,” said Foote. “I feel like I’ve improved that since training camp. Everything out there is quicker, guys whip the puck around and you just have to be ready for anything.”
This off-season will be huge for the Devils, which is the understatement of the century. They have their Core-Four of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Ty Smith, and Mackenzie Blackwood. Now they have to decide which of the prospects that have seen time at the pro level this season are worthy of competing for a roster spot in September for the 2021-22 season. Foote should be in that group, and with how he’s handled himself over his first three NHL games one of those spots should be his to-lose.