Is 2021 the year Kevin Fiala establishes himself as the new face of the Minnesota Wild?
After putting up a surprisingly effective 23-25-48 season with the Nashville Predators in 2017-18, Fiala turned in an underwhelming 64 game tenure with the team in 2018-19 before being unceremoniously traded to the Wild for 28-year-old center Mikael Granlund and nothing else.
Now routinely, if a team is willing to move on from an ex-top-15 first-round pick before their 23rd birthday, that’s probably not a good sign, but to his credit, Fiala took it in stride and finished out the 2018-19 season well enough to receive a two-year, $6 million deal to remain with the Wild into 2022.
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In hindsight, those two moves may alter the history of the Wild for years to come.
Freed up to play his unique style of speedy offense, Fiala emerged as the Wild’s top overall playmaker – scoring a career-high-tying 23 goals, a career-high 31 assists, and 54 points, the highest mark on both the team and of his career.
Routinely sharing the top-line next to veteran center Eric Staal and wings like Gerald Mayhew, Jordan Greenway, and Zach Parise, Fiala showcased the versatility to play either wing position and even embraced a move down to the second line depending on the circumstances.
But now, with Staal traded to the Buffalo Sabres for 30-year-old do-it-all forward Marcus Johansson, Fiala will have to step his game up and take on the mantle of ‘face of the franchise’ once and for all.
Fortunately, he’s pretty well-positioned to do so.
With Johansson acquired to add some additional speed and playmaking to the Wilds’ front line, Fiala will presumably have chance after chance to attack the net with reckless abandon alongside fellow 20-plus goal scorer Parise. This three-headed monster has the potential to be far more potent than 2019-20’s attack, with the added bonus of having three assist-specialists who can move the puck around at will.
Even with Mikko Koivu, the team’s captain since 2009, gone on a one-year, $1.5 million deal to the Columbus Blue Jackets, don’t discount the Wild’s chances of turning quite a few heads in the Central Division under now-full-time head coach Dean Evason.
Sidebar: Who do you think the Wild will name as their next captain? Well, Puck Prose’s Stefen Rosner believes Jared Spurgeon, the Wild’s $53 million defenseman is the man for the job (more on that here).
While it would be a bit irresponsible to imagine Kevin Fiala coming in his seventh professional season – at the somehow tender age of 24 – and put up 40 goals, it’s not outside of the realm to imagine the Swedish left-hander cracking 30 goals and 40 assists if he’s healthy for a full 82 game season. Is that enough to get the Wild into the playoffs in a regular, non-NHL Bubble season? Maybe, maybe not, but if the pairing of Fiala, Johansson, Parise, and 23-year-old Russian rookie Kirill Kaprizov can step up and replace the former stalwarts like Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu, the Minnesota Wild could be set up for a ton of future success in 2021 and beyond.