Folin makes promising NHL debut for Wild

Wild defenseman Christian Folin (left) was a plus-3 in his first NHL game and also played on the power play, helping Minnesota to a 4-2 win over the Blues.

Ann Heisenfelt/Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Two weeks ago, Christian Folin was playing for the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in the NCAA men’s hockey tournament, fresh off a Hockey East championship.

Folin, 23, was one of the most coveted college free agents and had offers to sign with an NHL team after his River Hawks were knocked out of the NCAA tournament and the big defenseman opted to sign with the Minnesota Wild, a team flush with young talent.

On Thursday night, Folin made his NHL debut for the playoff-bound Wild against the St. Louis Blues, a potential first-round playoff opponent for Minnesota. Folin, after few practices in a Wild sweater, was playing big minutes against the physical Blues.

"It’s one thing to play in your first NHL game if you’re playing in October or even December, but to play against the St. Louis Blues at pretty much playoff time of the year, that’s pretty impressive for the kid," head coach Mike Yeo said. "He showed me something tonight. There’s no question there’s a ways to go. There’s some things that we can help him with, but this kid’s got a bright future."

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For Folin, it was just another game, a continuation of a season in which he had six goals and 14 assists in playing all 41 games for UMass-Lowell.

"Actually it wasn’t too bad," Folin said after the game when asked if he dealt with much nervousness. "It was just another game. I’ve been playing good hockey all year and I just tried to relax as much as I could, and the guys were really great just helping me out too, just keeping me smiling. So that was good. I just went out there and tried to play my game."

Weeks earlier, there was no certainty Folin would be playing in the NHL this season. After two seasons with the Riverhawks in which he had 12 goals, 29 assists and a plus-27 rating, he chose to forgo his final two years of eligibility to make the jump to the NHL.

His size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) would help him make the transition and was a coveted piece for Minnesota, which has several young playmakers but was looking to get bigger on the defensive end. The Wild signed him to an entry-level contract March 31, adding another talented piece in a move that didn’t attract the attention that signing an NHL player or making a big draft pick would bring.

Yet, there was Folin on Thursday night making his debut, playing 19 minutes, 26 seconds and tallying his first career point by assisting on a third-period goal from Kyle Brodziak. Folin was a plus-3 in his first NHL game and also played on the power play.

"I was just smiling all the way down," Folin said of being on the ice for an NHL goal for the first time. "I just raised my arms and smiled."

Performances like Thursday night will have Yeo smiling too.

"I was pretty pleased with (Folin’s game), to be honest with you," Yeo said. "We’ve had very little practice time. So, for him to be able to come in and kind of get comfortable with our system and look good in it, says a lot about him and his ability to pick things up rather quickly."

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