ST. LOUIS -- For Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, this one will sting a little.
For the second spring in a row, the Flyers missed out on the most highly coveted undrafted free agent defenseman leaving the college ranks.
Last year, it was Danny DeKeyser, who skated out of Western Michigan and directly into the Detroit Red Wings’ lineup and the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This year, it was Christian Folin.
Unlike DeKeyser, who signed with his childhood team in Detroit, Folin was up for grabs.
Folin, a native of Sweden, left the University of Massachusetts-Lowell after his sophomore season and signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild yesterday. His Riverhawks team was knocked out of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the Flyers were one of three finalists for Folin’s services, along with Minnesota and Tampa Bay. All 30 teams likely contacted Folin’s camp to gauge interest.
Folin, 23, will join the Wild on their road trip in Chicago, where he could make his NHL debut in one of their final 6 regular season games. He is not eligible for the Stanley Cup playoffs since he was not on the roster by the March 3 trade deadline.
“Physically, you don’t normally have a young man coming out of college or junior that possesses his physical attributes,” Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told the Minnesota Star-Tribune.
Folin was never drafted by an NHL team. He is 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds.
Holmgren admitted last week that on the right team, Folin could “probably” step right into the NHL. Normally, the Flyers have lost out on college free agents like Folin because they aren’t usually able to offer an immediate spot on the NHL roster.
The timing of Folin’s signing is interesting, considering that Kimmo Timonen will miss Tuesday’s game here in St. Louis against the Blues. Outside of Timonen’s injury, there is no hole for Folin in the top six. However, given Erik Gustafsson’s up-and-down play, Folin could have temporarily slid into that spot.
It is unclear whether the Flyers dangled that carrot.
For Folin, the rush to join the NHL is simple, as playing this season will burn off one year of that two-year contract - making him closer to earning a higher-paying deal.
For the most part, all NHL teams can only offer the same, maximum entry-level salary of $925,000 per year, and all are “two-way” (NHL/AHL) deals. The difference is roster flexibility and fit.
Minnesota and Tampa Bay, in particular, have been able to lure two players away from the Flyers because they’d been out of the playoffs and willing to give up roster spots. Casey Wellman signed with Minnesota out of UMass in 2010. J.T. Brown went to the Lightning in 2012 from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Usually bereft of draft picks, the Flyers have used the college free agent market as a way to restock their prospect cupboard in recent years. Holmgren called it a “fertile ground” last week - and they have two full-time scouts doing the work.
So far, the Flyers have struck gold with players like Matt Read (Bemidji State) and achieved mixed results with others such as Gustafsson (Northern Michigan), Harry Zolnierczyk (Brown), Ben Holmstrom (UMass-Lowell), Mike Testwuide (Colorado College) and Kyle Flanagan (St. Lawrence).
Folin may end up being a player of Wellman's impact - a frequent NHL call-up but not full-time player. Or, he could end up like DeKeyser. The reward, possibly snagging a key blueliner for the future, far outweighs the risk of shelling out cash on an entry-level deal. How much Folin plays alongside Ryan Suter in the coming years will determine just how much this hurts.
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