ST. LOUIS – Forward Tyler Graovac and defenseman Christian Folin, who each began this season with the Minnesota Wild, found themselves on extended stints in the American Hockey League and Iowa this season.
Now, both are happy to be back with the big club and in the lineup as the Wild prepares to play the St. Louis Blues on Saturday
"I knew this would be a process for me all year," Graovac said. "I'm looking forward to getting back. I've never felt better, to be honest. My legs feels great, I'm confident in my game, and I'm looking forward to tonight and bringing a spark."
Graovac made the Wild out of training camp, and played in the season opener against the Colorado Avalanche. But a lingering lower-body injury that wasn't progressing as he had hoped turned into abdominal surgery in early November.
When he was ready to play, it meant it was time to return to Iowa, where Graovac has spent most of his professional career.
"Mentally it's been a little bit of a tough go for him the way the season started, getting hurt, getting sent down, and having a tough time getting back up," Head Coach Mike Yeo said.
For Folin, he started the season with the Wild having also played 40 games for Minnesota last year.
But then Folin was sent down to Iowa in late November to get more playing time, sustained a concussion that held him out five weeks, and, like Graovac, was forced to work his way back.
"Obviously my injury kind of set me back a little bit, but enjoyed my time down there, and I enjoyed playing there, but I'm here, and I'm really excited for tonight," Folin said. "It was the best for me to go down and play a lot of minutes."
They're each getting back in the lineup at a time Minnesota is desperate to win. With defenseman Jonas Brodin out three to six weeks, Folin have get a chance to earn a regular role.
Graovac, who was hoping to stick around after making the Wild out of training camp, has the same hopes now in February.
"I just want to come back, and I want to play my game, and do the best I can with my wingers," Graovac said. "That's all I can do. I'm not going to try to be a hero, I'm just going to play my role, and hopefully I can be a part of the solution and figure this out."
It's been a long slog for Graovac, who said his return to game action in Iowa was met with some difficulties.
"My first 10 games, I had little kinks here and there, and a couple of cramps, and just stuff working out in my body," he said. "New things for me, but I knew it would take me a little bit."
With his body now in the right place, his mind has followed.
"Right now, I'm not even thinking about it," Graovac said. "All I think about is trying to do my job, and that's where I was at training camp. I'm really happy about that, it took me a while, and it took me almost a month to try to figure that out mentally."