Two summers ago, a then 19-year-old Kevin Fiala told Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile that he was going to make the club out of training camp.
Poile was impressed with the determination, but it just wasn't in the cards. Fast forward one year later, and Fiala finds himself on the Preds Opening Night roster, and with good reason.
Nashville's first-round pick in 2014, 11th overall, Fiala possesses an abundance of skill and speed, and as he's developed as a player and a person over the past two-plus years; he's only gotten better.
Now, two days out from hosting the Chicago Blackhawks to kick off the 2016-17 campaign, Fiala wants nothing more than to justify the spot he's earned and help his team however he can.
"I'm so happy to be here; it's just very exciting, and I just want to get it started," Fiala said. "It's the NHL. I dreamed about this day since I was young. I'm very excited but I try to keep [my emotions] down, not be nervous too much and I'm just going to try my best."
Nerves shouldn't be too much of an issue for Fiala; he's played in six NHL contests already - plus one in the postseason - including five regular season appearances in 2015-16. But to make the team out of camp is a different story, and it became clear that once Fiala arrived back in Nashville at the end of the summer, the potential was more than evident.
"More than anything, just his level of work that he's putting in," Head Coach Peter Laviolette said of Fiala. "He's been an impact player offensively for us, being in the offensive zone, generating chances, and he's looked good in all the games. I think the issue for the past couple years with regard to Kevin, and we've talked to him about it, was just the speed of the game and playing at a pace and being involved all the time. With his work ethic, he's done an excellent job of correcting that this year at camp, and he appears to be ready."
Fiala feels the same way, highlighting his improvements all over the ice, not just when he has the puck on his stick.
"I think I did a big step both ways; defensively, of course, that was my biggest step," Fiala said. "I just work hard and skate every day, skate every shift, and that's what I wanted to do.
"It's a lot, it's the National Hockey League, and it's the best League in the world. You need to be good at all things, and I understood that and just try to improve in every situation. That's what I did the last two years and now I'm here, so I'm going to do everything to stay here."
Fiala has two fellow countrymen on the roster, defensemen Yannick Weber and Roman Josi. A newcomer to the Preds this season, Weber had heard Fiala's name in Swiss hockey circles and played with him once, but has been impressed with the young forward's skill set.
"In camp, he just played to his strengths, wasn't afraid to make mistakes, he's out there playing his game and I think that's what the coaches want," Weber said. "Everyone knows he's skilled and fast and smart. Mistakes are going to happen, he's still a young player, still has to learn a lot, but I'm really happy for him, happy to have another Swiss guy in the League. He fought hard the last couple years to make it and happy it worked out for him."
So it won't be NHL game No. 1 for Fiala on Friday night, but it certainly feels like a fresh start, and the beginning of what Fiala - and the Preds - hope will be the first of many fruitful seasons to come.
"I can't believe I'm here," Fiala said. "As a young guy, I want to be here in the NHL. That was my dream, and right now, I'm here. It's an unbelievable feeling."