Fiala's Production Depends on Deployment
Kevin Fiala played his best game as a Predator when Nashville needed him the most. His increased production because of increased responsibility is no coincidence.
It can be said in a lot of situations. The more talent that surrounds you the greater chance of succeeding. But it matters even more when discussing Kevin Fiala in the NHL. The 20-year-old's two goal night last time out gave some legitimacy to to his preseason hype. The reason for the Swiss forward's success? Chicken soup.
That's only a joke, kind of. The food poisoning debacle the Predators endured before the Pittsburgh game forced reinforcements from Milwaukee and increased roles for healthy roster players. Fiala was bumped up onto the second line with Forsberg and Ribeiro.
That came one game after a demotion to the fourth line as Laviolette attempted to shake up the roster with 5v5 scoring starting the season slow. After two goals and his best performance in a Predators jersey, those days in the bottom six may be behind him.
And they should be.
He's not an elite player at this stage of his young career, but the game of hockey is about putting players in positions to succeed. For Fiala to contribute on a consistent basis, he needs to be alongside great playmakers in the top six.
Fiala isn't going to be mistaken for a Selke finalist any time soon, but that's not why he was selected 11th overall just over two years ago. He loses some puck battles due to his smaller stature and isn't always in perfect position in the defensive zone.
He may not even be one of the six best forwards on the current roster, but players such as Jarnkrok and Fisher have the two-way ability to produce up and down the lineup. Trying to fit the 20-year-old on the fourth line while starting most of his shifts in the defensive zone is a lot like fitting a round peg into a square hole.
That's not to say he deserves immunity and top six minutes regardless of production. If Fiala does indeed struggle with talented linemates for an extended amount of time, he's probably best served going to Milwaukee to lead their attack and grow as a scoring forward.
In that scenario, the chatter will grow that Fiala must be a failure for getting sent down again. However, 20 years old is far too young to cement someone's success level especially with the talent he possess on the ice. That situation might never come to fruition, but it's something to withhold judgment on.
Five games into the season are hardly enough of a sample size to make conclusions on a lot of overarching ideas. The Predators aren't going to finish the year with an over 50% success rate on the power play. Richard Panik isn't going to lead the league in goals.
But with Fiala's scattered time with the big club the past two years and through the first week of this season, it's hard to imagine a scenario where he excels playing on the fourth line.
Does his breakthrough against Pittsburgh happen this quickly if food poisoning doesn't strike the team? It's doubtful. Fiala being forced to step up and skate alongside Forsberg and Ribeiro perhaps puts the infamous chicken soup as a blessing in disguise.
In addition, Viktor Arvidsson can be placed in this same discussion after his two goal night with Ryan Johansen and James Neal by his side. Slot in Wilson-Fisher-Smith in on the third line and watch the 5v5 woes come to an end.
Fiala isn't a perfect player, but his deployment with the right skaters gives him the clear best chance to succeed at this level.