ST. PAUL -- At 25 years old, Christian Folin was at an NHL crossroads last season.
A highly sought after college free agent in 2013, Folin played in 40 games during the 2014-15 campaign but made the lineup only 26 times last year.
Injuries, including a concussion early in the season, kept him from the lineup. But inconsistency in his own game prevented him from cracking the defensive corps in Minnesota on a more regular basis.
Folin knew something needed to change.
"[This season] is a huge season," Folin said. "I only have one year left on my contract, so obviously it is a huge year for me.
"Especially with the disappointment of last year."
With that in mind, Folin prepared accordingly during the summer.
Frustrated with how he played last season and how things went for the team, Folin went back to his native Sweden and spent the summer there for the first time in six years. He completely changed his training routine and came to camp in the best shape of his life.
Among the changes was a new trainer and the introduction of 3D Function, which Folin said has helped with hip movement and in creating more speed and has made him quicker into and out of the corners.
He even tried wrestling, which was a wake-up call the first time the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Folin got tossed around by a much smaller person.
"I come in there and I feel pretty big and these small guys are just tossing me around," Folin said. "I've never burned so many calories in an hour in my life. It was a fun couple of times I did it."
The early results of Folin's work have been impressive. He has played in nine of Minnesota's 10 games this season and helped stabilize a group beset by injuries to Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella the first few weeks.
Folin's plus-8 rating is best among all Wild defensemen and second only to Jason Zucker (plus-10) for the team lead.
"I came ready to play," Folin said. "I think it's just more being used to being up here and knowing what to expect. Coming into training camp, I had two years under my belt, and I feel like I'm living my life more as a pro."
Folin has seen a majority of his play so far next to countryman Jonas Brodin, who possesses a much different skill set. While Folin has a big frame and doesn't shy away from contact, Brodin is more effective when using his skating to make plays.
Having the bigger Folin on the ice next to him has helped Brodin feel more comfortable -- a role Folin said he enjoys.
"I try to match up with the bigger guys and take that extra hit to try and make him get more time with the puck," Folin said. "But also being big and strong in front of the net, taking on those battles. There's a lot of big boys."
Folin's early season performance has given Wild coach Bruce Boudreau confidence to play him more. Twice over the last three games, Folin has surpassed the 20-minute plateau.
Before training camp, while he was evaluating the players already on the roster, Boudreau said he was impressed with Folin's size, something the Wild don't have a ton of on the back end, and big shot.
"But you see a young guy that hasn't played a lot of hockey," Boudreau said.
Training camp and the early part of the season have been about harnessing those raw tools into a player that still has significant upside.
So far, so good.
"He's gotten better," Boudreau said.
Despite the solid start, Folin said his goal now is to keep building and surpass the expectations heaped upon him when he hit the free agent market just a few years ago.
"I don't take anything for granted," Folin said. "Anything can change any day. I just try to show up every day and play my best."