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Let’s check in on Kevin Fiala

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Time for our bimonthly checkup on everyone’s favorite 2014 draft pick not named Viktor Arvidsson.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the season, Kevin Fiala was on everyone’s mind. Would he get a legitimate shot at this roster? And if so, would he stick? Will this be a breakout year for Fiala? Or will he be stashed in Milwaukee to continue to work on his game?

There were some keys to making this happen, which we looked at here. Fiala would need plenty of minutes with top line forwards and would need to build up a rapport with the true leaders of this team, like Roman Josi and Mike Fisher.

The most important aspect of making Fiala fit on this team, and the one he has the least control over, is playing time. Perhaps more importantly is if he can get minutes with top line guys like Ryan Johansen, James Neal, and Filip Forsberg. Fiala is a skill forward, he needs to play with other skill forwards.

First, here’s a look at Fiala’s ice time (in all situations) compared to the rest of the team (courtesy of HockeyViz):

He’s right there in that 13 minutes per game mark (he’s averaging 12:56 per game, to be exact). Not terrible for a 2nd year player, but perhaps a bit less than we expected, considering he was slotted for first line minutes early on in the season. Still, he’s proven essentially nothing in this league to be giving minutes over guys like Smith, Wilson, or even Arvidsson. All players have to make the most with the ice time they are given and Fiala is no different. We’ll look at what he’s done with his ice time in a minute.

If you’ve followed Fiala’s season, you’ve probably noticed he has jumped around quite a bit. In addition to missing several games while in Milwaukee (during, somewhat ironically, the Predators most successful stretch of the season) Fiala has been paired with almost every other forward at some point. He’s played the bulk of his 5v5 minutes with Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro. He’s also played on the top line with Joey and Neal. He’s played on the bottom lines with Jarnkrok and Sissons. He’s played with Craig Smith and Viktor Arvidsson. Somehow he hasn’t been matched on the Fisher and Wilson line, but give it time. Fiala has played at least 20 minutes with nine forwards on the roster, which is, I don’t know, a lot? Sure seems like a lot.

The good news is that, pretty much wherever he goes, Fiala has produced in terms of shot generation and shot suppression. The even gooder news is that he has been significantly better at shot suppression than was probably expected— in fact he has the lowest 5v5 shots allowed per sixty minutes on the team at 46.13. Pretty impressive for a guy who was expected to contribute mostly on the offensive end.

Here’s what that looks like compared to the rest of the team:

He’s best on the team in terms of shot suppression and still helps out on the offensive end. Other players like Jarnkrok and Fisher help reduce shot attempts, but not without sacrificing offensive play. Fiala brings both elements to the table.

Inevitably, someone will bring up zone starts with Fiala: he does have the third highest offensive zone start percentage among forwards on the team (behind Ribeiro and Smith). And if a guy like Fiala gets more offensive zone starts (61.26% of the time) than another guy like Jarnkrok (36.13% of the time) then surely he has more chances to generate offense while also having less of a chance of being forced to play defense. Well, yes and no. In theory, that’s true, but when you look at the data in aggregate, zone starts don’t matter as much as you’d think. This is mostly because the vast majority of a player’s starts come “on the fly” where there is nearly an equal chance at having possession or not having possession.

On the offensive end, Fiala generates 62.04 shot attempts per sixty minutes, good for 7th on the team among forwards. He’s better than Forsberg and Wilson in that category, but notably not better than Arvidsson, Smith, and Ribeiro. In 24 games, he has five goals on a 9.8% shooting percentage. He only has two assists on the year, though that is probably more because of his playing style. While not a bad passer, his game is shooting and scoring. All that adds up to a decent offensive rating for a guy that only gets a little over a dozen minutes per game and does so with a revolving door of linemates.

Against the Devils on December 3rd, Fiala scored two goals, including this beauty. Watch how he set up Ribeiro for the cross ice pass to Craig Smith following a great zone entry. Also watch how he immediately went to the front of the net.

That’s just great offensive instinct.

While the results are still being calculated on what kind of season Fiala will eventually have, here at the end of December you have to be fairly pleased with his production. At his current pace, he should have something like 15-17 goals, with another 10-12 assists, which would make him around a 25-30 point player. Considering he missed 10 games of the season while in Milwaukee, that’s not bad production. If you’re like me and think he should get more playing time (especially with great passers like Ribeiro or Johansen), he could easily net 20-25 goals in the season he has left.

There’s a lot not going right with the Preds right now, but I think Fiala is more the solution than the problem.