Kevin Fiala got a taste of life in the NHL this spring. Just two months later, the teenager has made it clear he intends on sticking with the big club this fall.
In speaking to fans last Saturday at the Music City Sports Festival, Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile addressed a wide range of topics, including a thought on Fiala. According to the GM, the 18-year-old made quite a statement at season’s end.
“At the end-of-the-year meetings when [Head Coach] Peter Laviolette and I are talking to players, we’re usually the ones doing 90 percent of the talking,” Poile said to the crowd at the Music City Center. “So we did the talking to Kevin and then he says, ‘What do I need to do, I’m going to be playing for the Nashville Predators next season. I’m not going to [American Hockey League affiliate] Milwaukee, I’m going to be playing [in Nashville].’”
Now that’s a proclamation.
The Preds selected the Swiss forward 11th overall with their first-round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft last summer. Fiala initially appeared in Nashville for the team’s Rookie Development Camp in July, before skating in the Preds Rookie Tournament in September, followed by an appearance at the Predators main training camp.
Fiala then returned to his junior club, HV-71 in Sweden, to begin the season, before joining the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s AHL affiliate, in January. The St. Gallen, Switzerland, native was called up to Nashville on March 24, skating in his first NHL contest against the Montreal Canadiens before appearing once more for the Preds in Game Four of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against Chicago.
After Nashville’s postseason run concluded, Fiala’s statement led the GM to figure up a plan. Poile knew the winger was committed, but just how much became clear a few weeks ago.
“We said: ‘Why don’t you stay for the rest of the summer so our strength coach, David Good, can get you bigger, stronger and faster and give you every chance to make our team?’ And [Fiala] says, ‘I’ll do it.’”
On May 20th, Poile got a call from Fiala’s agent, with the two proceeding to figure out exactly when Fiala planned on arriving in Tennessee. The answer surprised both parties.
“So [Fiala’s agent] says, ‘Kevin wants to come over on June 6th,’” Poile recounted. “I said, ‘Really? I’m sure you mean July 6th, that’s [about time for our development camp].’ And he says, ‘No, I think he said June.’ I said, ‘Why you don’t call him back?’ He calls me back and says, ‘We were both wrong, he wants to come in two days.’
“[Fiala] came [to Nashville] on May 22nd…and he’ll be back here the rest of the summer on June 6th to stay and try to compete for the team. You can’t ask for any more than that.”
Upon arriving in Milwaukee last January and skating in 33 games with the Admirals overall, Fiala, who turns 19 next month, potted 11 goals and 20 points. Not too shabby for a rookie who admitted to his head coach that the North American game was a quicker pace than to what he was accustomed.
“Clearly he has the skills to play in the NHL, but what we were impressed with was his attitude and his mental preparation,” Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said of Fiala during a phone interview with the Predators website in May. “His maturity from rookie camp to development camp and then to main camp, to see him go away and then come back much more mature, not only as a hockey player, but as a person, [that was impressive].”
Poile was and continues to be equally awed by No. 56’s strides in less than a calendar year’s time. And if Fiala has it his way, Bridgestone Arena will be his consistent home come October.
“Kevin is a very determined young man,” Poile said. “I don’t know how you rate maturities of an 18-year-old…but he wants to play here and he wants to play here now.”