Kevin Fiala isn’t hitting every green light when he’s driving or finding money on the street.
“No, no, no,” I said. “Not that.”
But if that was the case, it wouldn’t be surprising since life on the ice has certainly been coming up roses.
Fiala finished the regular season playing the best hockey of his NHL career, a staggering burst in which he was among the most dominant at the league’s crunch time.
Now, he gets to bring that momentum with him to the Wild’s first-round playoff series against the Blues.
“That’s the most fun to peak right now,” Fiala said. “But I’m pretty proud of the whole season.”
How that journey started is completely different from how it’s going.
En route to career highs in goals (33), assists (52) and points (85), Fiala rebounded from a slow October and November. In fact, he scored just three times through the first 25 games.
“That’s also a thing that just made me stronger,” Fiala said. “Just make the next step to grow out of that hole.”
He went on a 12-game point streak from Dec. 20 to Feb. 2 that tied the franchise record, a stretch that overlapped with rookie Matt Boldy joining the team from the minors and the two wingers clicking as linemates. But then came the master class.
“Honestly, I haven’t seen that many guys go on a tear like that,” Wild General Manager Bill Guerin said. “He’s just been a one-man wrecking crew.”
Since April 8, Fiala has the second-most goals (10) and points (24) in the NHL; his 14 assists during those 13 games are tied for third. He notched three game-winning goals and his first career shorthanded tally and set a team record with five assists in a game and four assists / points in a period April 22 vs. the Kraken.
Not only was Fiala named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week in consecutive weeks, but he became just the fourth NHLer this season to have multiple double-digit point streaks after a recent 10-game run.
“You see the obvious stuff, how good he is one-on-one, his hands, his shots, just how good of an offensive player he is,” Boldy said. “But I think his brain is a little underrated with just how smart he is and how much he really sees. Even he makes plays that he knows he’s going to get it back, that he’s thinking two steps ahead of everyone else.
“He’s passing it and jumping into a seam where he sometimes passes it to me, and I’m like, ‘All right, hopefully Kevin goes there,’ and the next thing you know he’s right through the seam. I don’t think he gets as much credit for how intelligent he is. “
Last season, the playoffs were challenging for Fiala, who despite leading the team in shots managed just one goal, but the circumstances have changed.
For starters, he won’t be facing goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who foiled the Wild a year ago with the Golden Knights before eventually joining the team at the trade deadline.
“That’s going to be positive, for sure,” Fiala said.
The 25-year-old Swiss native has also learned more about the mentality that works for him.
“If I miss a chance or something in the first period, instead of thinking about it and growing me kind of a hole, just forget it and think about the next chance I’m going to get,” Fiala said. “I end up scoring two goals maybe that game because I’m also more happy and not thinking negative.”
This evolution has come on an expiring one-year, $ 5.1 million contract for Fiala and ahead of an offseason in which the Wild is facing a tight budget due to the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts.
“It’s going to be tough,” Guerin said.
In the meantime, Fiala can continue to showcase more of his potential in a reveal that’s been ongoing since a 2019 trade from the Predators.
“I always believed I could be this player that I am right now,” Fiala said, “and I still think I have much, much more to go.”