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Fiala putting in work to win spot on Predators roster

by Robby Stanley

NASHVILLE -- Kevin Fiala is doing everything he can to ensure he'll make a good impression on the Nashville Predators coaching staff at training camp in September.

The 18-year-old Swiss forward even started a few months early.

After his exit meetings with Predators general manager David Poile and coach Peter Laviolette at the end of last season, Fiala decided to return to Nashville in May to begin his training for the 2015-16 season. He wanted to be around the facility to prove to the organization he was willing to do whatever it took to make the Predators' opening-night roster.

"I just wanted to come here early to Nashville to know the city better and just practice here with [Predators strength and conditioning coach David Good] and do what Nashville says to make the team next year," Fiala said last week at Predators development camp.

The Predators selected Fiala in the first round (No. 11) at the 2014 NHL Draft in hopes that he would become a part of their foundation at left wing as a major offensive threat.

Fiala played one game for the Predators during the 2014-15 regular season and also was in the lineup for Game 4 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"It was a really nice experience," Fiala said. "I'm very happy that I could play the two games. I saw how the level is, especially against Chicago. They were so good, so I know now where the level is and I'm working hard for that."

It took Fiala some time to become comfortable in professional hockey last season, but his skill set eventually allowed him to make a smooth transition.

Defenseman Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, Fiala's teammate with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, credited Fiala's attitude on the ice as the main reason for his success.

"He's so confident," Diaby said. "He believes in himself. He knows he's good, he knows he could be one of the good players out there. His ego, it's good and bad, like there are pros and cons, but he's so confident. You see it in his play. He's good with the puck, he's not scared of mistakes, and it's good for him."

Fiala had 11 goals and nine assists in 33 games with Milwaukee last season. After his teammates helped him adjust to pro hockey in North America, he became one of the Admirals' top playmakers down the stretch.

"Junior hockey and pro hockey is so much different," Diaby said. "There's a couple habits that he had that he for sure had to change, but he did well, got to play in the NHL and things are going great for him."

Nashville has had success bringing young players along to make an immediate impact in recent seasons. Rookie forward Filip Forsberg's 63 points led the Predators in 2014-15, his first full season in the League.

Fiala hopes to have the same sort of immediate impact with the Predators this season. The offensive skill set is there. He's got good speed and has been a gifted playmaker at every level of hockey he's played.

It took Forsberg some time to bulk up and get used to playing a North American style of hockey. Once he was able to add size and learn how to win battles for the puck, he was able to use his skills to make an impact in the NHL.

"He had a great year," Fiala said of Forsberg. "Also at the World Championships, he had the most goals in the whole World Championships, so his play was unbelievable. I look up to him actually, and I want to do it the same way as he did."

At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, getting bigger and stronger is at the top of Fiala's agenda for the offseason. There will be stiff competition for a limited number of spots at Predators camp in September, but a player with Fiala's skill set could help Nashville add scoring depth to an improving young team.

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