Kevin Fiala has already had a taste of the NHL, but the 19-year-old knows there is still much to be done before he can solidify a regular spot on the Nashville Predators roster. But there certainly isn’t any question on his commitment to do so.
Predators General Manager David Poile said on Tuesday morning that Fiala will remain in Nashville for the rest of the summer, continuing to train with Predators Strength and Conditioning Coach David Good, doing everything he can to crack the NHL roster when the time comes.
This week’s development camp is just one more opportunity for Fiala to hone his skills and prove to Preds management – and himself – he deserves to be at this level. After Tuesday’s on-ice sessions at Centennial Sportsplex, Fiala put emphasis on the current camp and what it means for his development.
“Every day is important,” Fiala said. “It’s important to show the coaches that it’s been another year and you grew up. It’s just another year and a year to be better than before.”
Two years removed from the NHL Draft in 2014, Fiala set high expectations for himself to find himself on the NHL roster. But as he matures, both physically and mentally, Fiala also realizes that the time will come to produce for the Preds, even if the wait is longer than he hopes.
“I had a goal set; I wanted to be in the NHL last year, but it doesn’t matter, I’m still young and I’m still developing,” Fiala said. “I have to respect the process, and that’s it. I just do what they tell me to do, just give my best every day and see what happens.”
Poile also feels Fiala will likely become a regular contributor for his hockey club sooner than later, also while understanding there is a process for all young players to experience.
“He has work to do both on and off the ice,” Poile said. “Kevin is staying here for the rest of the summer, so that’s how dedicated and committed he is to try and win a spot. He has to have some more maturity as a young man in terms of everything that you do in a daily basis to be a pro, so it’s just a process. All I know is this guy is as committed as anybody to make it.”
Justin Kirkland went pedaling through the streets of downtown Nashville with his fellow Predators prospects on Monday morning during the opening hours of the club’s 2016 Development Camp by way of a Nashville Pedal Tavern. It’s not the typical mode of transportation, and neither were the humidity levels that were far less than comfortable.
“We got rid of the bike test this year, and we were all joking around saying that might’ve been the payback for the coaches,” Kirkland laughed. “I thought it was a lot of fun. That’s the first time being on one of those, it wasn’t as easy as it looked though.”
The 19-year-old forward is back for his third development camp with the Preds, another year of experience on his resume. Kirkland inked a three-year, entry-level contract on May 16 of this year, signaling the start of his professional journey that could end up in Nashville someday soon.
Kirkland potted 31 goals and 67 points in 69 games with the Kelowna Rockets during his third full season with the club in 2015-16 before scoring 11 more times in 18 playoff contests. The Winnipeg native is expected to begin the season with Nashville’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, offering a chance for Kirkland to prove himself at the minor league level.
But, Kirkland knows that opportunity has already begun, and with both Nashville and Milwaukee coaching staffs taking notes, the development camp veteran has plenty to give.
“This is my first chance to be able to go pro, so it’s kind of a fresh start,” Kirkland said. “You’re making your first impression as a pro on this coaching staff, and you want to leave a good one when you come back into camp. You could get a longer look, you never know.”
Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette was among those in attendance as Preds prospects hit the ice on Tuesday morning, keeping a watchful eye on the players who may soon be answering to him at the NHL level.
Laviolette knows many of these players still have a few years left to contend for a spot, but that’s not always the case. Nashville’s bench boss recalled the story of Viktor Arvidsson, who the Preds selected in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft. It didn’t take long for Arvidsson to make an impression on the coaching staff, and then the franchise.
“When I addressed them a couple days ago, I talked about Viktor Arvidsson, who sat there when I was new to the organization, he was new to the organization, and really, it’s a starting point,” Laviolette said. “Two years ago, I sat here and Viktor Arvidsson was a guy that at the meeting at the end of the camp, we said that we were really impressed with what we saw. There was good pop, he was a young kid, and he had a big smile on his face and had no idea of the path that he was going to take.
“He came back to a second development camp, got called up and sent down quite a few times, but eventually got to a point where he became a player that was impactful in our lineup to a point where he scored an overtime goal to get us to a Game Seven. That’s the road for these kids that they’re on; they have to learn, they have to grow, they have to listen and take everything in and develop as players, develop as human beings, and with all of that, there’s a chance that they could make it to the National Hockey League.”