The meteoric rise of Swiss-born left wing Kevin Fiala with Swedish team HV71 could not be ignored during the second half of the 2013-14 season.
In addition to playing in the Swedish Hockey League, he also represented Switzerland in four major international events: the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament in August, the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in December and January, the IIHF World Under-18 Championship in April and the IIHF World Championship in May. He had at least one point in each tournament, including four goals, nine points and a plus-4 rating in five games in the Under-18s, when he was named one of the top three players on his team.
It's no wonder NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb was singing Fiala's praises late in the season as the 5-foot-10, 180-pound left-shot forward went from No. 11 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings of the top European skaters eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, to No. 3 in its final rankings in a span of three months.
"I moved up the ranking because of hard play," Fiala said. "I'm the one on the ice; I do it. I did the right steps, took it slow and became better. It's the same way I think of the draft; I'm just taking it day by day, step by step. I'm pretty excited to be drafted and I'm hoping it's in the top 10 of the first round. I think I can do it and I believe.
"The draft is just once in your life and I will enjoy it."
Stubb believes Fiala, who is Swiss but has roots in the Czech Republic, has earned his promotion.
"He's just been so impressive since Christmas; he's an unbelievable Cinderella story," Stubb told NHL.com. "He came to Sweden as a junior and was suddenly playing in the [top] Swedish league.
"He played well in Minsk at the World Championship and is a very special player because he scored points in the same season, same year, with the best of the best on an international stage."
Fiala had three goals and 11 points in 17 games upon his promotion to the SHL with HV71. He had 10 goals and 25 points in 27 games for HV71's team in Sweden's junior league to begin 2013-14.
"As a 17-year-old old he played against men and with men in Sweden," Stubb said. "He impressed with his explosive skating, great puck-handling skills and overall quickness and speed. He has great offensive instincts and is full of surprises in the offensive zone. He just needs a bit more muscle and strength and some work in his defensive zone."
Fiala, who potentially could play in a top-six role for an NHL team, agreed with that assessment.
"I'm an offensive playmaker with good hands and skating," he said. "My defensive zone needs work and that's something I'll need to work on hard."
With hockey smarts, an infectious personality and a knack for scoring the big goal, Fiala doesn't feel his size will hinder his ability to play in the NHL.
"I'm not small; [Sidney] Crosby has the same size as me so I don't worry about that," he said.
Between his club team and international play, Fiala skated in more than 90 games this season. He finished his season at the World Championship in Belarus where he had two assists and a plus-3 rating as Switzerland finished 10th.
Fiala declined his invitation to participate in the fitness portion of the NHL Scouting Combine on May 31. The 17-year-old did meet with all 30 NHL teams for interviews at the Combine, including 11 interviews May 26.
"I'm disappointed I didn't get to show everybody that I can be one of the best [in fitness testing]," Fiala said. "After Minsk I was in Sweden for four days and then traveled to Toronto for the Combine [May 25].
"My Swedish team [HV71] told me they would give me a break for this Combine and then I would start up again on [June 2] so that's why I needed a break."
Many scouts believe the fitness testing segment is not a competition or a pass/fail-type test even though players often boast and compete against each other as they would playing a video game. Most scouts and managers wouldn't know exactly what the actual scores portray; however, they do pay particular attention to the effort the player exhibits while performing the tests.
Despite not testing, the overwhelming majority of scouts feel Fiala is a true talent in the making.
Fiala feels he might be more NHL ready than some people think.
"When I was 14 it was intimidating playing against older competition, and now I'm 17 and was strong enough to play against the men in the Swedish league," Fiala said. "I'm pretty happy with the way my body has responded to better and stronger competition. I'm not scared to play against anyone."