Despite immense talent and potential, something isn’t working in the relationship between the Nashville Predators and forward Kevin Fiala.
Coming into the season, Kevin Fiala seemed like he was ready to finally take the next step and become a dangerous offensive weapon for the Nashville Predators. In 80 games last season, he totaled 23 goals and 25 assists in 15:09 of average ice-time. The Preds were getting 6.6% more shots with him on the ice as opposed to without him, to go along with 6.0 point shares and a plus/minus of 20. The player they thought they drafted seemed to be starting to materialize.
With Viktor Arvidsson down to injury, Fiala’s chance at cementing a spot on the top two lines has never been better. Unfortunately, something is not clicking this season. After a number of listless performances, not providing much on the offensive end and looking disinterested on the defensive end, Peter Laviolette seems to be cooling on the young Swiss.
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In the previous two games against the LA Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning, Kevin Fiala has played a combined 13 minutes and 50 seconds. Against the Lightning, in particular, Fiala found himself skating on the 4th line. Marking another attempt to get him going or simply send him a message this season.
His demotion to the 4th line may be a wake-up call or it could be the precursor to a move, however. So far, Fiala has taken a serious step backward this season. Through 21 games, the 22-year-old Swiss has two goals and seven assists. He is worst on the team with a plus/minus of -7 and is 19th on the team in point shares with a paltry 0.3, just behind Matt Irwin, Anthony Bitetto, and Nick Bonino. His last goal came on November 12 against Anaheim, and before that was all the way back on October 19 at Calgary.
Certainly, he can turn things around. For example, his shooting percentage is down to 5.1% which marks the lowest in his young career. Even getting that number closer to 10% would help his cause and instill more confidence in him moving forward. He can put this all behind him rather quickly with a few good performances.
The damage may already be done, though. Eeli Tolvanen is getting closer to his Nashville call-up and Kevin Fiala is still an enticing enough prospect to potentially help the Preds strengthen their roster. The return of Austin Watson to the lineup further complicates things. If Fiala can’t separate himself from players like Watson, Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, and Ryan Hartman by scoring goals in bunches, he needs to at least provide a similar effect defensively. At 5’10” that may prove difficult, anyway, but he definitely can’t allow himself to be pinned as lazy defensively.
He’ll have an uphill battle to prove himself on the 4th-line, especially if he’s only going to get six or seven minutes of ice-time. He’ll need to put in the work at practice and fight his way out of the slump he finds himself in, or he may be doing it somewhere else.
From a personal standpoint, I’d love to see him work himself out of this funk. He still occasionally will give a flash of brilliance, but the head-scratching play seems to come more often these days. Fiala can definitely be more valuable to the Preds on their team than as part of a trade, but the likelihood of that happening shrinks with every 7:00 TOI we see.