WINNIPEG – When the Wild travels to Nashville next week to complete a rare home-and-home set against the Predators, winger Kevin Fiala will gather more of his belongings to take with him.
What he won’t need to pack up is a high-profile role.
That was already waiting for him with the Wild, a new chapter the 22-year-old is eager to capitalize on after switching teams Monday in a deal that sent forward Mikael Granlund to the Predators before the NHL trade deadline expired.
“I am very thankful and grateful for this opportunity,” Fiala said. “[Wild General Manager] Paul Fenton really believes in me, and it’s just awesome to see. And it gives me confidence, too. Right now I’m just looking for giving back and not just accepting. He made a big trade. He gave up Granlund. He’s a great player. I’ve really got to give something back.”
Fiala had been with Nashville ever since the organization drafted him 11th overall in 2014, suiting up for 204 games over five regular seasons in which he tallied 45 goals and 52 assists, but he was expecting a change.
He roved around the lineup, from the bottom to the top, and developed a reputation as a streaky scorer — sitting on 10 goals after he posted a career-high 23 last season, which came during his return from a broken leg suffered in April 2017.
Still, Fiala had never been traded before and felt nervous about joining the Wild even though he knew it was the right move for his career.
“It wasn’t easy,” Fiala said. “[Nashville] was my home for three years. I was there three years, five years in this organization. It’s not easy, you know. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to see forward. This is the best for me, for my future in hockey. I’ve got to see that. It’s very exciting. I don’t have to think too much. I just got to play hockey. I’m here to play hockey. That’s my job.”
That was coach Bruce Boudreau’s message to Fiala for his debut with the Wild Tuesday.
After arriving in Winnipeg around 1:30 p.m., Fiala was on the ice by the evening and ended up skating 17 minutes, 14 seconds — including 2:13 on the power play — while putting three shots on net in the Wild’s 3-2 rally over the Jets that pushed the team’s win streak to four.
Although he usually lines up at left wing, Fiala landed in the top-six on the right side of winger Zach Parise and center Luke Kunin. That’s a position he played only sparingly with the Predators this season.
“It’s just a different system,” said Fiala, who’s from Switzerland. “It’s going to take time a little bit. I felt fine [Tuesday]. The guys helped me a lot on the ice, too. They made it easier for me, for sure.”
An ensuing three-day break in the schedule should also help Fiala adjust to the Wild’s style, with the team set to reconvene Thursday for practice after a day off Wednesday, and what the Wild is counting on is a skill set that is “off the charts,” according to Fenton.
“He’s got an electric stick,” Fenton continued. “His vision is unique. I was watching two games of his the other day. He’s got this ability to find people in really close quarters.”
The Wild will need help filling that playmaking void with Granlund gone, and getting the chance to contribute amid a fresh start is a challenge Fiala is ready to embrace.
“Very excited to be a part of this team and help them in the future,” he said, “and of course this year to make a push in the playoffs.”