It’s time for our annual countdown of the best 25 Nashville Predators players under 25 years old.
This is not only a tradition here at OTF, but is also something that you might see at many other SBNation NHL blogs. The premise is simple: rank the 25 best players who have not yet reached their 25th birthday (as of August 1st, 2017).
At #3, Kevin Fiala.
Another example of the organization’s known patience with offensive prospects, Kevin Fiala seems primed and ready to have a breakout season in 2017-18. With offensive depth a concern (once again) going into the season, Fiala’s ice time and responsibilty should be bumped up considerably. The question persists whether he will be able to step up to the plate.
He seems to be recovering quite nicely from his freak leg injury in the second round of the playoffs against the St. Louis Blues - which is a great sign - but what do his past performances and numbers suggest about this coming season?
A first round pick in 2014, the Preds’ organization has been clamoring for Fiala to put everything together for a few years now. In his first season post-draft, Fiala played 20 games for HV71 of Sweden’s top league. He only scored five goals and collected 14 points, but he also appeared in one game for Nashville, appeared in 33 games for Milwaukee where he scored 11 goals and 20 points, and played for Switzerland at the World Junior Championships and the World Championships.
In 2015-16, Fiala saw five games in Nashville managing just one goal, but he had an impressive AHL campaign scoring 18 goals and 50 points in just 66 games. This past season, Fiala saw a career-high 54 games in Nashville throughout the season. He scored 11 goals and collected 16 points for the Preds, plus added seven goals and 19 points in 22 games for the Admirals. In his time in Nashville this past season, Fiala played mostly with Mike Ribeiro, Craig Smith, and Calle Jarnkrok. It’s expected that he’ll receive top six minutes this season and playing more with Craig Smith could be fruitful.
As you can see above, the Fiala-Ribeiro-Smith line was fairly effective. Of course, Ribeiro will be replaced with Bonino, but Fiala’s shot production with Smith is much better than with Jarnkrok. What’s more encouraging about Fiala’s game is he played at an above-average 55.0% Corsi For rate this past season. If we’re to expect top six production from him moving forward, we have a decent sample size to suggest he can handle possession against tougher competition. More ice time should encourage Fiala to shoot more and maintain his good-but-not-necessarily-inflated 9 to 10% shooting percentage. At this point it seems Fiala’s leash will be infinite; it’s simply a matter of consistent production.
By now, most Nashville fans are familiar with Fiala’s style of play. He’s quick and explosive. Although similar in size, he plays a more finesse game than Viktor Arvidsson. He has a lethal shot and excellent awareness in the offensive zone. His defensive game isn’t the best, but that should be more futile in the Preds’ up-tempo system.
Editor’s note: while Fiala is most notably known for his game winning overtime goal in Game 3 against the Blackhawks, his goal late in Game 2 is a great example of his skill. Watch how he gains the zone with speed, puts immediate pressure on the defense, flashes some puck skill, then rips a laser just under Corey Crawford’s arm.
It was his first career playoff goal, and he looked so calm scoring it.
Fiala will be a full-time contributer this season. Aside from injury, there should be no reason he sees the press box or heads back to Milwaukee.
Fiala is entering the second year of his three-year, entry-level contract. He will cost the Preds $863,333 this season. Upon expiry, he will be a restricted free agent.