Preds draftee Fiala has big future, regardless of 2014-15 destination

Bill Streicher

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At just 17 years old, Kevin Fiala sure has a lot of folks trying to figure out his future, both immediate and long term.

The 11th overall pick of the Nashville Predators in last month’s NHL draft already carries a heap of expectations that his offensive prowess can be realized sooner then later.

Raising that ante is the hiring of new coach Peter Laviolette, whose duties include cultivating a productive offensive approach for a team long suffering in consistent goal-scoring.

"There is no hurry there," Fiala said on Friday, following a development camp session being held this week for Predators prospects at Bridgestone Arena. "I mean, I am 17 years old. I’m young. But my goal is NHL. It’s my dream."

Just where Fiala, who turns 18 on July 22, plays this coming season is still a long way from being decided. With offensive skills duly noted, work at the development camp will go a long way in determining whether Fiala returns to Sweden to play in the top pro league there, gets assigned to Milwaukee (the Preds’ top minor-league affiliate in the American Hockey League), or makes the NHL roster from the get-go.

"I don’t know enough about him in terms of his maturity, both physically and mentally," Predators general manager David Poile said of where Fiala might end up. "I want to just do the right thing. I don’t know what the right thing is to do just yet. We have a few more days here to get to see him and to know him."

If he returns to Sweden, the Swiss-born forward will play for HV 71 in the Swedish Hockey League. Last season, he joined that team late, but still had three goals and 11 points in 17 regular-season games before tacking on one goal and six points in eight playoff games.

"If he’s back there (in Sweden), it’s a very good league," said Predators chief amateur scout Jeff Kealty, who has seen Fiala play the most among the coaches and player personnel. "It’s one of the top leagues in Europe. It would be a good spot for him to continue his development there, if that’s the case."

Fiala emerged on the scene earlier this year by hitting the hat trick in representing his native Switzerland on three national teams. He played for his country’s top squad in the 2014 World Championship, notching two assists in seven games. Fiala also had five points in five games at the World Junior Championship, while scoring four goals and five assists at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

That made Fiala just the third-ever player to participate in all three world championships in one year. At the World Championships, he was teammates with two current Predators — defenseman Roman Josi and forward Simon Moser.

"I know a first-rounder has to be the best of the best," Fiala said. "So if you are the best, you can be here (in the NHL). I am going to do everything I can to get here as fast as I can. I wish to be in the NHL this year, of course. But I am looking forward to giving 100 percent and then I will take it step by step."

In drafting Fiala, the Predators showed no concern that he’s on the smaller side, standing only 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds.

"He’s not the biggest guy," Kealty said, "but he’s very strong and very well put together. He’s only (soon to be) 18 years old, and you always want to get bigger and stronger, but I do think at his size, that’s what we liked about him — he’s a sturdy guy and a strong guy. Despite his shorter stature, his strength will be a positive for him."

That aside, the Predators had hoped Fiala would fall to them in the draft because they are seeking offense, and he has been a proven scorer at every level.

"His offensive skills are excellent," Kealty said. "We believe that they are high end. He is a very creative player, loves to have the puck on his stick and a very competitive player. He wants to make a difference. You combine that talent with the competitiveness, I think that is why he has produced the way he has."

Fiala admitted he didn’t know what to expect during this week’s development camp, where he was thrown into the mix among 32 Predators prospects, both drafted players and free agent signees. That group includes former Capitals first-round draft pick Filip Forsberg, a forward with high scoring potential who turns 20 on Aug. 13.

Forsberg had one goal and four assists in 13 games last season for the Predators.

Training at the development camp has included a variety of on- and off-ice testing, off-ice activities and workouts, fundamentals, video work, media and nutrition education, team-building and training principles.

The camp culminates Saturday with a prospects scrimmage at 3:30 p.m. CDT at Bridgestone Arena as part of the team’s annual open house for the general public. The players will conduct an autograph session at 5:30.

"It was a great week for the first time in Nashville for me," Fiala said. "It shows me a lot of what I am going to face and learn about the system. We have good teammates here. Everybody has been very nice.

"I thought the guys would not be that nice to each other. I thought it was going to be fighting or so on. But everybody has been nice, and I like that."

Still, Fiala’s immediate future will be determined before the Predators report to training camp in September, with or without him.

"We need to sit down with his agent to see about the possibility of him coming to training camp," Poile said. "That may be a possibility. It may not be a possibility. We have to go through all those situations to see where we are.

"I know he would like to come to training camp to see how he matches with our players. We would like that to see the same thing, but we haven’t got that far."