It looks like Kevin Fiala is going to get a chance to sink or swim this season with the Nashville Predators. The speedy Swiss winger got called up on Wednesday to inject some life into a lethargic offense. He replaced Cody Hodgson, who got put on waivers after struggling most of the season.
Fiala was slated to be a player with breakout potential, but failed to make the club after great preseasons by Viktor Arvidsson and Austin Watson.
Fiala started the season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, and most thought it would only be a short stay before he got a shot on the main roster.
However, Fiala had a “terrible” (according to him) start to the season and he kept getting overlooked for players like Miikka Salomaki, Cody Bass and others when the Predators needed to call someone up. The frustration grew and he was suspended for two games after making an obscene gesture towards the opposing bench in a Nov. 11 in a win over the Lake Erie Monsters.
That suspension awakened Fiala and he registered 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 34 games with the Admirals. He now gets a chance to bolster a Nashville offense in its charge towards the postseason.
After that suspension, Fiala refocused his game and started putting things together in December. Fiala was honest in his assessment of his early season performance as I mentioned, but Milwaukee coach Dean Evason was quick to praise him in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
“Kevin Fiala is getting better every single game, every single game,” Milwaukee coach Evason said. “I take that back. He’s getting better every day. He’s getting better with his teammates, in the training room, in practice, in games. He’s 19 years old. We all forget he’s 19. We did the same thing with Filip Forsberg. We kept going, ‘geez, he should be better.’ He’s 19 years old. He’s got stuff to learn, and he is learning. Credit to him. As long as he gets better and better. That’s what we’re all doing here in the American Hockey League, so we’re prepared when we get that opportunity in the NHL.”
Fiala has taken a page from Forsberg and used his time in the minors to refine his game. Forsberg stayed a good part of the 2013-14 season in the AHL and thrived getting experience and adapting to the North American game.
General manager David Poile’s gamble of bringing up Fiala paid off early as he scored in his first shift against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.
It was his first career goal in the National Hockey League in only his third NHL game. The marker was a hustle goal where Fiala drove to the net to score. Predators analyst Chris Mason took notice of the change in Fiala’s game.
Fiala looks like a different player then last time I saw him … A little Milwaukee does a player good. #NSHvsWPG
— Chris Mason (@ironmason30) January 15, 2016
Fiala skated hard and looked like a guy that “wants to stay “ as my fellow Predators writer Colin Fitts stated on his Twitter (@FittsTHW) during the game.
One of the major concerns with Fiala’s game was his -16 plus-minus rating with the Admirals. His defensive game needs to catch up, as he’s still trying to adjust to a more advanced game.
However, he does have good speed and can recover if he gets in trouble. It’s just a matter of learning the game and being in a position to make plays. Fiala registered a 0 in plus-minus, so that’s a step in the right direction.
Can Kevin Fiala Be Nashville’s Spark?
The Predators did drop a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime loss to Winnipeg that knocked them out of the last wild card spot, but Fiala did make plays and got on the scoresheet.
He worked hard over the summer, and Fiala is continuing to improve his game. I stated that Fiala being sent down would be helpful in his development, and it looks like it has helped so far. Fiala doesn’t lack the confidence in thinking he’ll be a factor.