Not much has gone right for the Minnesota Wild this season. From the 1-6-0 start to a laundry list of injuries to key players — Mats Zuccarello, Joel Eriksson Ek and Devan Dubnyk have already missed time due to injury, and Greg Pateryn has yet to even appear in a single game — times have been tough in the State of Hockey.
But things have been particularly difficult for forward Kevin Fiala.
Acquired last season in the trade that sent Mikael Granlund to the Nashville Predators, many were hoping the 23-year-old Swiss winger would pick up the slack and produce at a Granlund-esque level right out of the gate — not exactly the easiest of feats considering Granlund collected 185 points (62 goals and 123 assists) in his final three seasons with the Minnesota Wild.
Still, point production wasn’t much of an issue for Fiala during his time in Nashville. The young forward put together a “breakout campaign” of sorts during the 2017-18 season when he registered 23 goals and 48 points in 80 games. The former first-round draft selection’s 2018-19 season wasn’t too shabby either before he was traded to Minnesota (10 goals, 32 points in 64 games with the Predators).
Naturally, many weren’t all too thrilled when Fiala began the 2019-20 campaign with just one point in his first eight games of the season, earning him multiple trips to the press box as a healthy scratch. His early struggles even stirred up rumors that he, along with forwards Joel Eriksson Ek and Ryan Donato, were on the trade block.
But since his most recent trip to the press box in Minnesota’s October 29 contest against the Dallas Stars, Fiala’s turned things around drastically. Fiala ranks sixth on the Wild with a solid 53.85 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 and fourth on the team with a 71.43 5-on-5 Goals For percentage in the last five games. Only Eric Staal, who has also come alive as of late, and Mats Zuccarello have collected more points than Fiala in the month of November.
Fiala’s performance against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday was perhaps his best of the season. It was his first multi-point game of the season, and his goal in the second period wound up being a huge momentum shifter as he brought the Wild within a goal of tying. He also earned an assist on Matt Dumba’s game-tying bomb from the point late in the middle stanza.
But one play that particularly stood out came late in the third period with Arizona desperately trying to even the score. As Clayton Keller attempted to enter the Minnesota zone, Fiala swooped in, pickpocketed him at the blue line and raced down the left wing to get a partial breakaway. Fiala was unable to get his backhander past Darcy Kuemper, but the play as a whole was very encouraging.
Fiala still has a whole lot to prove. That’s a given considering what a took to acquire him last season. But he’s well on his way to becoming less of a liability and more of an asset on a Wild team that is desperate for consistent scoring. So long as he can keep up the solid play, the one-for-one trade with Nashville may wind up being not quite as bad as many make it out to be.
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