Since Chuck Fletcher has taken over as General Manager, much has been made of his willingness to go after College Free Agents. There have been successes like Justin Fontaine, failures like Casey Wellman, and meh-inspiring moves such as Nate Prosser. The #14 player on our Top 25 Under 25 list has the ability to surpass them all and claim to be the Wild's best College Free Agent acquisition of the Chuck Fletcher era.
Meet Christian Folin.
Folin was a bit of an unknown kid from Sweden when he first came to the United States to play juniors. He ended up playing in the NAHL, which is a pretty far cry from the WHL. After a trade to the Austin Bruins, Folin ended up impressing enough to go the the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, where he played 79 games where he scored 41 points (12 G-29 A). He also enjoyed team success, too, as Lowell made it to the NCAA tournament in both of Folin's season, advancing to the Frozen Four in 2013. By the time he declared himself to be a College Free Agent, many, many teams were interested in Folin.
When Folin was signed by the Wild in March, he added to the Wild's strength in their blueline pipeline. Not only do the Wild have very good NHL players in Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, and Ryan Suter, but their prospect depth includes Mathew Dumba and Gustav Olofsson. So how does Folin distinguish himself?
He does that in part due to his size. He's 6'3", 214 pounds, which would give the Wild another big, skilled defender to go with Marco Scandella. But unlike other players that are coveted for their size, Folin is a player that can do more than "move around a little bit". He can skate, he can move the puck, and he can shoot. Folin can bring a physical brand of defenseman that fans and coaches will love, with the skills that should please newer-school hockey fans.
The Wild's most experienced third-pairing options are currently the declining Keith Ballard, a relative unknown in Jonathon Blum, and an AHL guy in Justin Falk. With this sort of competition at the NHL level, Folin should and will get an opportunity to carve out significant minutes for the Minnesota Wild this season. It will be very fun to see what the Wild do with his intriguing skill-set. Would he skate with Suter to try and replicate his chemistry with another big defender with a huge shot? Would the Wild pair him off with Brodin with the intention of having Folin do the dirty work for that pairing? Will they give him power play time?
And the beauty of having Folin is, even if he's a complete and total flop, he's house money. There was no big-money deal. There wasn't a draft pick spent on him. There wasn't a player traded to acquire him. There's no risk at all with him. Just a contract slot (out of 50) and less than two million dollars.
And, oh yeah, a fair amount of upside.
What Do The Scouts Say?
He's a big, impressive, smooth skating defenseman. A little on the old side for someone who was only a college sophomore last season, but the maturity in his game goes beyond his age. He was clearly a high-AHL or low NHL-calibre player last season. It was no surprise he signed.
He's very smart and efficient, strong in puck retrieval and especially getting the puck up the ice when he's carrying on the rush.
At the college level he was very good positionally and the quality of his skating made up for the occasional mistake. But he logged heavy minutes against top competition for a reason.
He does a lot of things hard: shooting in particular, but also hitting (when he gets the opportunity). Both are a function of his size to some extent, but I saw him shoot the puck right through the net on a 3-on-2 last year, so he's got that extra power behind his slapshot and one-timer in particular.
Again, he's like 23 so he's not exactly a young prospect at this point. I don't know how much developing he has left in him. But if you're a solid enough player to maybe make the Wild out of camp at 23, that's not so bad. I'm curious to see how he'll do as a first-year pro, but he won't be out of his depth.
"[Folin] became a strong presence in all three zones towards the end of the year. He has a rocket of a shot, is fairly mobile for such a big defender and is fundamentally sound. His one weakness is he tends to get flat-footed from time to time. He compares favorably with Oliver Ekman-Larsson."- Jeff Cox, via Broad Street Hockey
"Folin can do a little of everything but other than his physical game he doesn't stand out in a ton of areas. He's big, strong, and hits so physically (even for a college player). Folin is an above-average skater who is mobile in all directions and has a quick first step. He likely doesn't project as a tough-minutes NHL Defenseman... [but] he projects as a fringe #4/good #5 defenseman."- Corey Pronman, Hockey Prospectus
We haven't seen him play yet, so really, anything can happen. But what's most likely to happen is that Folin will eventually settle into a role as a very good complimentary player for the Wild. His size and physicality will be very much welcome on a blue-line that would probably benefit from a bruise that could also play. His hockey sense and well-rounded, if not spectacular skill-set should ensure that his floor is pretty high, and it looks like he has the tools to potentially exceed the #4/#5 defenseman expectations.
Much like Michael Keränen (whom we discussed earlier today), it's hard to know quite what the Wild have on their hands in Folin. But with Folin (and Keränen, for that matter), it's not at all hard to see them being solid role-players for the Wild, and surprisingly easy to dream on them to become something more than that.