In Bruce Boudreau’s experience, all young players take time to find their stride in the NHL. The Wild coach knew things wouldn’t be any different with Kevin Fiala, so he expected he would need to have patience as the 23-year-old winger matured.
For nearly a year, Boudreau saw only isolated glimpses of Fiala’s skill and scoring ability. But with seven points in his past four games, Fiala has given the Wild the production it hoped for when it acquired him from Nashville last February. The streak includes four goals, with three on the power play and one a game-winner Friday against Vancouver.
Should Fiala extend his scoring string to five games Tuesday, when the Wild plays Vegas at Xcel Energy Center, it would match his season best.
“You have to work hard. It doesn’t come by itself,” Fiala said Monday, after a practice at Tria Rink. “I didn’t start this season the way I wanted. But it got better and better, and now it’s on the way where I really am happy about my game.
“I’m a young player. I hope I will get better every year. At this moment right now, especially after last year, I feel I’ve come a long way.”
This season, Fiala said, “everything feels like home.” That familiarity and comfort level with teammates, coaches and systems has lifted his confidence, which has elevated his game.
Boudreau said he has been waiting to see this version of Fiala since the trade on Feb. 25, 2019, that brought Fiala to the Wild in exchange for forward Mikael Granlund. In recent games, Fiala has been taking better care of the puck, reducing his turnovers and generating trust that he can be reliable in late-game situations. He ranks third on the Wild in points (35) and assists (22), and he is tied for second in power-play goals with a career-high five.
“I think he realizes when he plays the way he’s supposed to play, or is capable of playing, that he’s a dynamic player,” Boudreau said. “The bottom line is, he’s still young.
“I don’t think he’s reached his potential yet. I don’t think he knows his potential. But it takes young guys time. And when they get it, they become really good players.”
Fiala registered six points over a five-game stretch from Nov. 23-Dec. 1. Boudreau spoke to him Monday about the effort required to sustain that kind of production. While some players get complacent, Boudreau has cautioned Fiala that he will have to work even harder to avoid backsliding.
Fiala expects the playoff race to help. After the Wild missed out last year, he said he is motivated to be a difference-maker who can push the team back to the postseason.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “You want to play. You don’t want to watch it on the couch at home. We want to get back to the playoffs, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my best every night.”
Glass half full
Though the Wild had a three-game winning streak end with Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Colorado, Boudreau was pleased with the effort. He said he thought the Wild outplayed the Avalanche — second in the Western Conference standings — for most of the game.
Tuesday’s game is the second of a four-game homestand, and it continues a February string in which the Wild plays nine of 12 games at Xcel.
“If we win three out of four the rest of the way, I’ll be happy,” Boudreau said. “You go home [Sunday], you’re not happy because you lost the game, but you know your team gave it a really good shot. So you’re not walking and pacing the floor. If we play like that in our next three home games, I think we’ll get a good result.”
Parise sits out
Zach Parise did not practice Monday. Boudreau said the forward was taking a maintenance day and is “100 percent” certain he will play Tuesday.