His dirty blonde beard is so thick and bushy, Wild defenseman Christian Folin is starting to look like Merlin Olsen from the old TV show, “Father Murphy.”
“The guys call me ‘Thor,’ and [Erik] Haula’s calling me some football player I’ve never heard of (Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick),” Folin, a native of Sweden, said. “I liked doing it in the playoffs last year, so I figure I’ll try it for a little bit.”
Wild fans didn’t get to see the thick fuzz in the playoffs last year because Folin didn’t get in a game. But as the 2015-16 season is set to begin Thursday at Colorado, it appears as if Folin will start the season on the Wild’s deep blue line as Marco Scandella’s sidekick.
After feeling Folin got off to a slow start, coach Mike Yeo liked his camp and feels the 6-4, 219-pounder can add a different dimension. Everything about Folin’s game is “heavy,” Yeo said, from his physicality to his shot.
“He shouldn’t play the game like Mike Reilly or any of our other guys for that matter,” Yeo said last week in Duluth. “He’s a heavy body, and we think he has the ability to be a real strong defender and physical presence.
“But with that, he’s got to be able to play the game the way we want it to be played. A huge part of that is execution, transition and I think the way he’s been handling the puck coming out of our defensive zone through the neutral zone can really help us get to it.”
Folin played only 40 games for the Wild last season, scoring two goals and 10 points. He played 13 games for Iowa of the AHL.
“I still think I played well when I was playing,” Folin said. “I don’t think I played myself out of the lineup by making bad plays. It was a numbers thing and then we got [Jordan] Leo- pold. But I was pleased with my season and had a good summer so I can build off of that.”
Assistant coach Rick Wilson, who changes the defense during games, sees a difference.
“He’s playing more aggressively with his space,” Wilson said. “His gap has gotten better, he’s finishing checks, he’s trying to use his size and his weight, something we’re encouraging him to do and we need.”
Folin was pursued by several teams as a free agent out of Massachusetts-Lowell in 2014. The Wild won the sweepstakes, and Folin said there was never a point through all his scratches last season that he regretted choosing the Wild.
“I felt all along I could play on this team and be an asset for this team and be a player that can be relied upon,” he said. “I told myself that every day and just tried to be the hardest worker at those times so I’d be ready if my number was ever called. It was never called [in the playoffs], but I hope to prove myself to them this season.”
Folin’s mother, father and brothers have moved to the United States. This past summer, Folin and one of his younger brothers, Niklas, a freshman defenseman at UMass-Lowell, spent five weeks living together at the family’s summer home outside Gothenburg. They did yard work and trainer daily.
“I feel ready,” Folin said. “To get a good role on this team, you have to be sound defensively. We’re a defensive-minded team, so it has to start with that and build yourself forward. I won’t be scoring 10 goals, although I’d like to chip in. But I have to keep it simple, be strong and physical and be a good presence in front of the net.”
• Center Erik Haula (groin injury) skated before practice Sunday, is scheduled to do the same Monday and could practice Tuesday, Wilson said. If Haula can’t play Thursday, Ryan Carter could center Chris Porter and Jordan Schroeder. Schroeder (upper body) practiced Sunday and hopes to be ready by Thursday.
“It’s been a tough week,” Schroeder said. “[Sunday] was the first time I could actually shoot and I felt better and better.”
• The assistant coaches ran Sunday’s long, workmanlike practice because Yeo was out of town on a personal matter.