Kevin Fiala could easily be at home in Switzerland, training in the mornings, hanging out with friends the remainder of the day, and doing other normal things a teenage hockey player would do in the summertime.
But this 18-year-old isn’t average. Instead, he’s spending the summer in Tennessee, doing everything he can to find himself on the opening night roster of the Nashville Predators.
Now with Preds Development Camp in the rearview mirror, the 2014 NHL Draft first-round selection has made his intentions clear - he wants to stay in Music City.
“Everybody has to improve,” Fiala said last week during Development Camp. “I want to be bigger, stronger and come to the NHL next year. I think I’m an offensive guy; I can score and make some passes. I am happy if I can just be on the team, so I’ll just take any spot they give me. I am going to work hard, go 100 percent and try to show them I want to play here.”
After playing for the Swedish Hockey League’s HV-71 to start the 2014-15 season, Fiala joined Nashville’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, in January. Fiala skated in 33 games for the Ads, scoring 11 goals and tallying 20 points.
“I’m impressed with the shape he’s in already here in July,” Milwaukee Head Coach Dean Evason said of Fiala. “He’s a committed guy and we were very impressed when he got to us... We knew he had his individual skills, but his team game was terrific. He was integrated into the group right away and he competes hard.”
On March 24, Fiala received his first career recall to the NHL and skated against the Montreal Canadiens. The St. Gallen, Switzerland, native also appeared in Game Four of the Predators Western Conference Quarterfinal series against Chicago.
Now, he’s hoping to stick with the big club.
“I’m very happy I could play two games and I saw how the level [of play] is, especially against Chicago,” Fiala said. “[Chicago was] so good, so I know now where the level is and I’m working hard for that. I’m trying to be bigger now, stronger, faster; just to step up.”
At the Music City Sports Festival in late May, Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile spoke of Fiala’s dedication to the club. When Head Coach Peter Laviolette and Poile spoke to Fiala at the end of the season in April, the teenager was adamant on skating for the Preds next season.
Seeing that tenacity, the staff offered him the opportunity to stay in town and train with Predators Strength and Conditioning Coach David Good. Good would help him bulk up and better his speed and skill set. Fiala did not hesitate to accept the offer.
Fiala made the final decision to return to Nashville at the end of May, following the conclusion of the IIHF World Championship, where he represented Switzerland. A few days later, he was boarding a plane to do so.
“I just wanted to come here early to Nashville; to get to know the city better and to practice here with David Good and do what Nashville says to make the team,” Fiala said. “I’ve been here for five weeks, I work out with David Good and I’m just very thankful that he takes time for me. I want to be better and he helps me so I’m very happy.”
As far as confidence goes, Fiala has it. He is more motivated and dedicated than ever before.
“You want to have a little bit of swagger, but you still want to be very respectful, and he is that,” Preds Director of Player Development Scott Nichol said. “It’s been one year from him coming here last year to where he is now. I think it was the best thing for us, our organization and him to leave Sweden and come and play in Milwaukee for half the year there. He opened his eyes up to what pro hockey [in North America] is like. He’s got a great attitude and treats people right and that’s what we like to see.”
Fiala’s move to Music City and commitment to spending the summer in a place thousands of miles from home just to better his chances at landing a roster spot with the Preds in the fall hasn’t gone unnoticed, especially during Development Camp.
“Last year, Fiala for example, he was the youngest kid and kind of in awe of the whole situation,” Poile said. “This year, he's one of the best players and putting himself in position to have a very good training camp and maybe a spot with the Predators on a full-time basis this year.”
Predators center Filip Forsberg had a similar situation to Fiala just last summer. Only playing 18 games with the Preds in seasons prior, he was committed to making the team.
Entering the 2014-15 campaign as a rookie, Forsberg finished the season leading the team in scoring with 27 goals and 63 points. Fiala’s wish is to make a similar impact someday soon.
“I hope to,” Fiala said of emulating Forsberg’s success. “He had a great year and he had the most goals in the whole World Championships. His play was unbelievable. I look up to him actually and I want to do it the same way as he did.
“Everybody has goals and my goal is to make the team this year. I’ll do everything for that and go 100 percent to make the team.”