There is no doubting the truth: the Nashville Predators hold a future star in Fiala. Just how good is the young forward and can he improve?
It is well-known David Poile is one of the best general managers in the National Hockey League. While he gains more attention for major trades, you cannot overlook the drafts Poile and his staff completed. It helps the Nashville Predators most recent first-round selection is setting the Olympic world on fire.
Coming into this season, talk centered on who would fill the forward lines and provide scoring. That topic was intertwined with the health of Kevin Fiala. After suffering a gruesome injury during the 2017 playoffs – in addition to being a somewhat unknown commodity – questions needed to be answered. Fiala happily responded. Now the question becomes how good can Fiala be.
Simply, really good.
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Fiala is in his second full NHL season, playing in all but one game to this point. In 2016-17, he completed 54 games. These two seasons provide us with enough foundation for assessing Fiala’s growth. The basic numbers speak for themselves. Fiala scored 11 goals and obtained five assists last season, but has 18 and 20, respectively, this year. Granted, he is playing on the Predator’s second line instead of floating between the third and fourth previously.
Other numbers tell more of the story. Fiala is playing a less physical game, with only 20 hits this year, keeping him healthy. He is also seeing a 3% increase in offensive zone starts. The more Fiala plays in the offensive zone, the more chances he has to score. This is where we see his greatest improvements. Fiala’s shots are higher (134 from 114), individual scoring chances increased (161 from 120), and he is achieving more high-danger opportunities (68 from 44). Obviously, the better the chances a player get the more likely he is to score. Now, Fiala is scoring on 13.4% of his shots, which is third on the Predators.
This season, Fiala is earning a 4.7 point share. While most of those numbers come on the offensive end, his defense is also improving. It is harder to see looking at the stats, but takes these numbers as examples. When Fiala is on the ice, the Nashville Predators have 192 high-dangers chances while giving up 129 opportunities. As a comparison, when Filip Forsberg is on the ice, those numbers are 163 and 141. For Craig Smith, 195 and 143. Fiala is often in a position to deflect the puck away from opponents.
You cannot doubt Fiala’s importance to the Predators this year. There are only four stretches this season in which Fiala failed to earn a point in consecutive games. Twice, that streak was only two games. There was also a three-game stretch as well as a seven-game drought.
Room for improvement
It is easy to see how Fiala has improved this season. There is room to improve as well. Take, for example, his giveaways. Last year, he turned the puck over 27 times. This year, that number is 41. Yes, it is obvious to see why the increase occurred. More chances with the puck lead to more opportunities to turn it over.
After watching many of the games this season, observation leads to one concern in Fiala’s game. Fiala often misses the initial pass to him at key times. There was a moment in the third period against the Ottawa Senators earlier this week where an open Fiala is served a puck and instead of playing the puck, he waits for it. The puck would skip over his stick. What could have been a breakaway opportunity for Fiala became a turnover. Other times, he waits for the puck to reach him, giving a defense the chance to intercept the puck or close space on Fiala.
There is no doubting Kevin Fiala’s ability. He is showing to be as potent of a scorer as Forsberg. He will earn 40 goals in a season, and soon. Let’s just hope it is with the Nashville Predators. Fiala is a restricted free agent after next season. He is certainly earning a nice payday.