It was only three months ago when Kevin Fiala had a string of undisciplined actions that created a cause for concern.
Fiala, who the Nashville Predators selected 11th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, was benched on Nov. 5 for showing up late to practice and was suspended two games by the American Hockey League for flipping off an opposing team’s bench following an altercation on Nov. 11.
Fast forward to now, and Fiala is hardly the same frustrated player at the beginning of the season.
The 19-year-old is looser and more confident than ever before. In 40 games this season with the Admirals, he has ten goals and 26 points.
“I have a lot of fun [in Milwaukee],” said Fiala. “I like everyone in this locker room. Hopefully, everyone likes me too. I have a lot of fun. Hockey is hockey no matter where it is.”
“He has improved in a lot of areas,” said Milwaukee head coach Dean Evason. “First, it’s [his] maturity. You look back, we’ve sat Kevin out of hockey games to give him a little bit of an attitude adjustment because he’s young. He’s 19 years old. There’s a lot of different factors that go into maturing and becoming a real pro. Kevin’s making steps and making strides in that direction of becoming a pro.”
Some of that attitude change can be credited to being called up by the Predators on Jan. 13. Fiala appeared in five games and scored a goal while playing with elite scorers Ryan Johansen and James Neal on the first line.
“They are really good players on the ice, but it is not just that,” Fiala said. “They are really good [people]. They helped me with a lot of things on the ice and off the ice. I can learn a lot of things from them.”
The 5-foot-10, 193-pound left-winger was reassigned on Jan. 28 and is anxiously awaiting another chance to play in Nashville. However, he understands he still needs to enhance his game if he wants to remain in the big leagues for good.
“My offense is good, but I have to be even better defensively,” Fiala said. “I am getting better and better, and I have to be even better. I have to be more physical. I have to have a better shot. Everything.”
“To get to the next level, he has to push the pace of his hockey game,” said Evason. “If he does that on a consistent basis, he’ll give himself a chance at success not only at our level but in the NHL.”
Fiala is an excellent skater, especially when the puck is on his stick. He is creative with the puck and can blow by defenders on a moment’s notice. With Fiala’s skill set, it is no wonder the Predators treasure him as the next best prospect in the pipeline.
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.