The Curious Case of Kevin Fiala

Opening minutes of the second period of Game 1 in St. Louis, Kevin Fiala is about to enter a world of pain. Speed and confidence is on his side as he played exceptionally well in previous round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs against Chicago. Streaking down the ice, the 20 year old Winger from Switzerland is giving his all to negate an icing call. He burns past the Blues defender like a golden streak of lightning. Then disaster strikes. A slight loss of balance coupled with 200+ pounds of Robert Bortuzzo sends Fiala awkwardly into the boards. The result isn’t pretty. A fractured femur. After a 20 minute delay, Kevin is stretchered off the ice and taken to a nearby hospital. His rookie season is done.

That was 2 seasons ago. Presently, Fiala is healthy and skates primarily on the second line with Kyle Turris and Craig Smith. He has been surrounded with a lot of talk this season, both positive and critical. Kevin has been advertised as a fast skater with quick hands and an even quicker shot. With an eye for spectacular plays, he’s likely to develop into the ultimate “skills” player. Except he just… hasn’t. Not yet at least. In 80 games played last year, Fiala had 25 assists and found the net himself 23 times for a total of 48 points. Pretty dang good considering he was still just 21 years old and was coming off that horrific injury in the postseason prior. This season, however, his production has seen an awfully slow start. At just 3 goals in 25 games played, Fiala is on pace for a 10 goal season, which is not stellar. His shooting percentage is, as you would expect, also extremely low at just 5.6%. It seems like he just hasn’t been able to capture that magic he was once playing with. And considering the amount of hype for the kind of potential this guy has, I think Preds fans may be starting to get a little antsy.

On the brighter side, Fiala is costing the Preds organization virtually nothing. He is a former first round draft pick from 2014 (which means they didn’t trade for him) and is currently on the last year of his Entry Level Contract at just over $860K. If he continues to have a sub-par season (which is possible, but I doubt it), that could actually end up helping the Preds sign him to a team friendly contract next season. As a Restricted Free Agent after the current deal is up, the Preds will retain the rights to his contract, meaning the only real danger of losing Fiala would be to a trade. But let’s say he turns it on and ends up having a respectable season. I still don’t think he has enough leverage to ask for a ridiculous sum of money. This team is stacked with young talent and if GM David Poile can keep it that way on the cheap, you know that’s what he’s going to look to do.

I go back and forth on how I feel about Kevin Fiala just about every time he steps on the ice. I guess that’s why he’s so interesting to me. He’s a young, skillful player that has the potential for greatness, but just can’t seem to get any sort of confidence in his game. To take a phrase from another blogger that I follow: “To some players, goals are like oxygen”. Meaning once a player gets going, there is a visible difference in their confidence and play. But when that player is struggling, they can suffocate themselves into mediocrity. I feel like Fiala is trying to force himself to be “great” when all they’re really asking from him is to be “good”. As counterintuitive as that seems, simplifying his game might literally be all he needs to do to get back on track. The poor guy is also just about the most unlucky player on the team right now. He’s hit more posts than I can count, pucks bounce over his stick at the wrong moments, and I even watched his stick just explode in his hands as he tried to score on a wide open net. He can’t buy a goal right now. I’d like to see him adopt an air of calmness when the puck is on his stick and try not to force plays when there is a better option around him. A couple goals, maybe even some lucky bounces, really any sign positivity could spark the fire within Fiala that we’ve seen numerous times before.

Obviously the Preds are doing their best to ensure his success. Coach Laviolette has been moving the lineup around trying to find the right fit for young Fiala. Personally, I’ve thought he looks great with Gaudreau and Salomaki/Grimaldi on the 4th line. (But please can we stop trying to force him onto the 1st line! It’s been agonizing to watch!) A lot of effort has been put into getting this one particular guy going. With 2 of our Top 6 forwards currently out, Fiala really needs to find his stride and start producing. I’ve heard some Preds fans (including myself) toy with the idea of trading him, but I don’t get the impression that Mr. Poile is wanting to do that. Yes, Fiala probably has high trade value, but I think his “potential” is more attractive to the organization. If he was included in a package to get Panarin from Columbus or Nylander from Toronto, then we can talk, but for now I believe the Preds will continue to groom him and hope he develops into the kind of player that can make a serious impact on this team.

I think they key here is going to be patience. Patience from the team. Patience from the fans. And patience from Fiala himself. The Preds are famous for their “home grown” players and development. This organization definitely knows what they’re doing when it comes to young talent. Though it may seem like time is running out on Fiala, he still has an ample amount of time to prove himself. I’d say we all should trust in the system and expect success.

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