2018-2019 Player Reviews: Kevin Fiala
The curious case of Kevin Fiala plagued stats fans and Preds fans alike.
Ah, Kevin Fiala: such incredible potential; such raw, promising talent wrapped in a compact bundle of good looks and alleged bad attitude; such a perennial disappointment to fans hoping that he’d already be the next Filip Forsberg or better.
With two years of strong underlying metrics, and a 23-goal/48-point season in 2017-18—his first full year with the Predators—the 22-year-old Fiala seemed to be poised to take the next step this past season.
He did not.
The Report Card:
Season in Review:
When he wasn’t playing with Kyle Turris, Fiala acquitted himself well enough defensively, and consistently managed to help make things happen in the offensive zone. The Fiala-Turris-Craig Smith line that worked so well last season only to sputter and die in the playoffs continued to struggle, and Fiala spent some time with other players—primarily Ryan Johansen as both Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson missed time. None of it quite worked.
Fiala and his lines were consistently victimized by awful shooting luck. Fiala himself shot 7.6%, a full 3.5% lower than his career average before this year and on the unlucky side for a forward, but none of his linemates could buy a goal either.
This, in combination with some risky defensive adventures, led to his posting a -11 over his time in Nashville this year and drawing a lot of ire for that. Fortunately for Fiala, plus/minus is a very silly stat—with better shooting and goaltending luck, it would have looked a lot prettier. There’s no evidence that a defending skater’s effect on pure save percentage is repeatable, so we can’t even blame Fiala for all the bad bounces, even as there were a few he should have helped catch.
Ultimately, Fiala’s season was more of the same: his impact on shot rates suffered playing with Turris—I mean it really suffered—
—and the rest of his strengths continued to have their accompanying weaknesses.
I can’t remember who it was who first said that Kevin Fiala had a brilliant ability to skate the puck cleanly over the blue line, then turn into the wall without being seriously challenged, eventually turning the puck over because he’d cut off all his own options.
There were a couple of consistent criticisms of Fiala: the people annoyed he didn’t play more physically, and the people annoyed by his poor decision-making. Unless you count his steady increase in penalties taken, neither of those changed this year.
Still, when he was good he was good, showing tantalizing flashes of incredible talent. He had the ability to be almost automatic on transition, steering the puck up the ice and making some sweet moves in the offensive zone. What turned into overthinking and fizzled into nothing some of the time was highlight-reel stuff the rest of the time.
Paul Fenton, who’d GMed the Milwaukee Admirals while Kevin Fiala was one of their go-to guys, saw he was available, bet on that potential, and traded one of the Wild’s leading scorers, Mikael Granlund, to get him.
This is one of those times when it would have been unbelievably easy for Fiala to turn a scoring chance into pinning himself against the boards or just drifting out of the play, and instead he stayed focused and ended up conjuring a goal almost out of thin air.
Getting traded to the Minnesota Wild.
Sorry, Kev. At least no lizards were harmed in the making of this trade?
Chilly, with a chance of hotdish. It will be interesting to see whether Fiala finally gets his game sorted out and capitalizes consistently on the flashes of incredible talent he’s shown, but it won’t be in Nashville, and it will no longer benefit the Preds if he does.
There’s a decent argument to be made that he suffered at least partly from bad luck in 2018-19, which means he could be in the right place for at least a partial rebound.
The Letter Grade: D+
Mr. Fiala shows potential but struggles to complete assignments as directed and has yet to correct certain areas of weakness. Remedial study is advised.
For his contract—the final year of his ELC—Fiala performed well for the team, but compared to expectations and to his own occasionally-glimpsed ceiling he disappointed badly. At the same time, he had 32 points in 64 games with Nashville, though he struggled to drive play after a couple of good years, and went on a penalty spree to boot.
Half a point per game isn’t bad for a 22-year-old in the middle six, but it wasn’t what we needed to see from the player who used to be one of the Predators’ brightest young prospects. The team has been in need of “just one more forward” for years now, and if Fiala had shown himself to be that forward—as a lot of people were anticipating—things might look very different now. As it is, we’re hoping Granlund will prove to be that “just one more forward.”
The Fan Grade:
How would you grade Kevin Fiala’s season?
Statistics cited are from hockey-reference.com; other work is referenced from hockeyviz.com, the work of Corey Sznajder, evolving-hockey.com, and OTF’s own Bryan Bastin, who also helped me find Fiala highlights when my brain had melted thanks to multiple consecutive days with temperatures around 110F. Thanks, Bryan!