Just when it looked like the Minnesota Wild’s season was swirling around the drain, suddenly there is flow and for now, at least, that flow appears to be heading towards postseason play. Hockey teams are always looking for flow and for the Wild, you can find it and if he takes off his helmet, you can also see some pretty impressive flow with forward Kevin Fiala.
It’s wrong to think that Fiala has suddenly emerged out of nowhere. His potential got him drafted 11th overall by the Nashville Predators back in 2014. He played a handful of games for the Preds in his first two seasons before finally seeing extended playing time in the 2016-17 season.
Rookie Campaign Ends Abruptly
Fiala’s rookie season in the NHL produced modest numbers, 11 goals, and just 5 assists in 54 games. In the postseason, he scored twice in a four-game sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks but missed the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup when he suffered a broken left femur and a ruptured artery in the opening game of Nashville’s second-round series against the St. Louis Blues.
After a summer of rehab, Fiala rebounded nicely to produce career highs with 23 goals, 25 assists, and 48 points in helping Nashville return to the 2018 Playoffs. But this time, even with a healthy Fiala, the Preds were unable to get past the second round.
Through 64 games of the 2018-19 season, he tallied a pedestrian 10 goals and 32 points, and so the Predators, looking for a spark heading into the postseason, decided they’d seen enough and dealt Fiala to the Wild at the trade deadline in exchange for forward Mikael Grandlund.
No Immediate Return On Investment
If the Wild were hoping for an immediate return on their investment – and let’s face it, who isn’t – they had to be disappointed with what they got in Fiala. Dealing with a new team in a new city, his play suffered and so did the Wild. In 19 games down the stretch, he only managed to find the back of the net three times. Perhaps even more damning, he only produced four helpers, as the Wild missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
To add insult to injury, Fiala dragged his skates heading into this season, not agreeing to a two-year contract until the day before players were due to report to training camp. That and an early-season injury hardly endeared Fiala to head coach Bruce Boudreau, who made him a healthy scratch twice early in the season.
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“I just had to figure things out, how to do it again,” Fiala recently told Sarah McClellan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “There were tough days, for sure. But in my heart, I always knew I could do it again.” (from ‘Wild’s Kevin Fiala gets to show new, improved game to former Predators teammates,’ Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 03/02/2020)
Fiala Finally Catches Fire!
And boy is he. Fiala has 10 points from 4 goals and 6 assists in the Wild’s last six games. In that stretch, he led the team by recording multiple points in five consecutive games, breaking the team record that had been held jointly by Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston.
Not surprisingly, the Wild went 4-1 in that stretch, playing themselves into temporary possession of the seventh playoff spot in the west.
While Fiala shuffled through the Wild’s first three lines for most of this season, Boudreau dismissal meant a fresh start for him, and a promotion from interim head coach Dean Evason to the Wild’s first line, much to the benefit of Zach Parise, who leads the club with 24 goals.
“He’s on fire right now,” Parise told the Star-Tribune. “Nice goals too. Not my kind of goals.”
A Fixture on a Wild Team Headed For Change?
Fiala is sure to attract increased attention from opponents down the stretch, and potentially, in the off-season too. With a year left on a team-friendly, two-year, $6 million contract, he is a rare piece of trade bait for general manager Bill Guerin, whether the Wild make the playoffs or not.
The case for keeping Fiala? With long-awaited Russian KHL standout Kirill Kaprizov supposedly joining the Wild next season, Fiala would give the team two potential goalscorers on a team that currently features no others under the age of 30.
And, for what it’s worth, it sounds like Fiala may have finally found a home in the ‘State of Hockey.’
“It’s been great,” Fiala said. “It’s been fun. Tough one at the start, obviously, and even in the beginning of this season it was a little difficult. But it got better and better, and right now it’s better than it’s ever been in my whole career. It’s been fun.”
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