Kevin Fiala: Checking in With the Rookie

Kevin Fiala: Checking in With the Rookie
Cat Silverman

The Nashville Predators are already a pretty lucky team when you consider that they flipped an aging Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg.

Of course, Forsberg has been there all season; we’re accustomed to seeing his name, and he’s a regular on the ice. The new bubble of excitement is being built up over two new players, recently recalled and debuted by the Central Division team.

We talked about Viktor Arvidsson the day he was recalled, and his first two NHL games have been far from a disappointment. The overlooked Swedish winger was passed up in three drafts before the Predators took him in the fourth round, but his exciting on-ice style and aggression make him a player Predators fans look forward to watching for seasons to come.

After just one game, though, Arvidsson was joined by another young prospect — 2014 first-round pick Kevin Fiala, who has been impressing the team’s brass in Milwaukee enough to get the recall this week.

Fiala has been something of an on-ice phenom in the SHL since he was 14; he skated circles around the other players in the U17 lineup when he was three years their junior, and did much the same over the first half of this season with HV71 Jonkoping of the SHL’s Top Tier league (formerly Elitserien). He was pulled over to North America midway through the season, though, and spent only a handful of games in the AHL before being brought up to the NHL. He’s a smart player, something the Predators seem to be amassing in bulk; although he’s only played one game, it’s easy to see that he’ll be around for a while.

In his first NHL game, Fiala was given a pretty impressive set of linemates to start him out — and he didn’t let them down, pushing to fire three shots on goal over eleven minutes of ice time in the Predators’ 3-2 OT win over the Montreal Canadiens. He looked like a good fit with Mike Fisher and Craig Smith, although fans probably won’t get to see much of him in anything but even strength situations for the time being — so for now, we just have to imagine what he could do for a power play unit.

With James Neal still out and the Predators facing down their first legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup victory, is Fiala the answer they’ve been looking for?

It’s possible.

Arvidsson has slotted in nicely with Mike Ribeiro for now, although he played a game with Forsberg too and that was an equally good fit; Fox Sports Tennessee’s Kris Martel described the young winger’s style as akin to a sniper ‘hunting for goals’. He’s aggressive on offense, something that’s a rarity in guys new to the league — many players who excel overseas and in the major juniors never really click at the NHL level because they lose their confidence when in possession of the puck. Seeing a young forward who isn’t afraid to release a shot a split-second after he sees the opportunity to do so is something that teams rarely happen upon in late-round players — if Arvidsson can continue to play this way, he’ll become lethal over time.

Fiala, though, is the smart player of the young Predators corps. He hunts out openings on the ice and passing lanes that other skaters would never spot — something he actually has in common with Ribeiro himself, and something that could make him invaluable on the top line as Ribeiro ages out of the team’s top six. With a fast, offensive goal scorer like Forsberg and an aggressive, confident winger like Arvidsson, Fiala could become the brains behind Nashville’s top six a few seasons down the road.

The only thing that prevented him from earning his first NHL point was having to make his debut against Carey Price, but Fiala is still missing the size that few of Nashville’s young forwards really possess. James Neal, Taylor Beck, and Colin Wilson are really the only young offensive players on the roster that bring any kind of size or bulk to the team — if Fiala, Forsberg and Arvidsson can’t find that power forward to complement their game in the near future, the Predators could find themselves overpowered by some of the other big teams in the West.

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Cat Silverman

Catherine is the first American in a long line of Canadians, making her the black sheep before she even decided she wasn't going to be a Leafs fan. Her cousins may never forgive her for the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, but they're at least glad she's a rink rat, too. She's a pretty terrible goalie, but she's got a good grasp on the game from her seat on the bench.

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