The LA Kings made an early splash into the 2022 NHL off-season with their trade for Minnesota Wild forward Kevin Fiala.
After struggling to score goals in the 2021-22 season, the LA Kings knew their biggest need was finding a scorer. They did precisely that. On June 29th, the Kings would trade away their first-round pick in the 2022 NHL entry draft (19th overall) and prospect Brock Faber to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for RFA winger Kevin Fiala.
After acquiring Fiala, the Kings quickly handed out an extension to the 25-year-old. They signed Fiala to a seven-year deal worth an AAV of $7.875 million per year for a total value of $55.125 million.
The Kings were expected to make a splash for a star player, and they got exactly that. Giving up the first-round pick wasn’t a surprise seeing how their prospect pool was already stacked. With their depth among the right-side of the defense in the system, Faber’s inclusion wasn’t a complete shock either. After Faber returned to school, there could’ve been a legitimate chance that he wouldn’t sign his entry-level contract in Los Angeles.
Today, we’ll take a deep dive into the type of play style Fiala plays and see what he can bring to the table in an LA Kings uniform.
Kevin Fiala has been a consistent contributor to the Minnesota Wild since he was traded to them at the trade deadline of 2019. A highly touted young player who was drafted 11th overall in 2014, Fiala had been hyped up as a goal scorer and a playmaker all in one. We never really saw him reach his full potential in Nashville for some reason, but he blossomed when he joined the Wild.
In 215 career games with the Minnesota Wild, the Swiss-born forward recorded 79 goals and 186 points. In his final season with the Wild, Fiala scored 33 goals and 85 points in 82 games. A career-high for him.
With 53 goals in his last 132 games, it’s apparent that the LA Kings have finally found their first-line sniper for the next seven years. Not to mention at a fantastic value.
But what was the reason why Fiala broke out when he did? Is this a one-year wonder? That’s what we’re here to find out.
When Fiala was in Minnesota, it was notable that he had played poorly (to his standards) because of his linemates. Throughout his time there, he was often put on a line with players that didn’t have the same high-skill level that he did. Until this season, the Wild hadn’t used him properly.
In the 2021-22 season, Fiala was rotated quite a bit and never found a true home on the lineup. That was the case until Matt Boldy was called up. Fiala and Boldy were put with Frederick Gaudreau. The line stuck together throughout the season and helped Fiala become an elite player.
Even though some suggested that Boldy was the reason that Fiala played so well, that isn’t the case. Playing with Boldy was the first time in Fiala’s time in Minnesota that he was given a proper linemate at even strength. His production rapidly increased.
Kevin was always a stud analytically. His QOT (quality of teammates) was always low. Boldy certainly helped Fiala’s production, but to say that he was carrying Fiala isn’t necessarily true.
Fiala’s Corsi-for percentage (CF%) and Dangerous Fenwick-for percentage (DFF%) were better with Boldy, but he did have the upper hand when he played without him for the most part. Even defensively, he was slightly better without Boldy.
It’s almost crazy to think about how Fiala put up a 70% goals-for percentage (GF%) when he played on a line with bottom-six forwards. It’s even crazier to think about how Fiala had a 14.6% on-ice shooting percentage.
Fiala is expected to start the season on a line with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe, which makes you wonder how much better he’ll be. Along with Kempe, he’ll be tasked with bringing goals to the top line.
Visually and analytically, Fiala is the guy who knows how to find the back of the net.
Fiala finished second among Wild forwards in GF/60 last season, notably above players like Kirill Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello, and Boldy. Hitting a .29 GF/60 put him into the top 30 of all NHL players in the 2021-22 season.
The 25-year-old also was second on the Wild in Goals Above Replacement (GAR) at even strength. Once again outperforming Kaprizov and many others.
He was also second among forwards in penalties drawn. That’s a nice thing to have as well.
But even though we know what we can expect from Fiala at a scoring rate, what type of player is he?
As skilled of a player that he is, he’s not one to shy away from the physical part of the game. Fiala loves to get the best of his aggressors. He loves to hit, and he is no stranger to the corners. He stands at 5’10”, but he doesn’t play like it.
One of the things you’ll catch Fiala doing a lot is reverse hitting. Opponents go in for the hit and attempt to take him down, but as they try to do that, Fiala stands his ground and takes the opponent down instead.
Fiala will try to use his 204-pound frame anytime he can. Even if it feels unnecessary, he’ll go in for the hit and try to take the opponent to the ground.
Like in the video above, Fiala could have played it safe by not going for the hit, but he still did go for it. Fiala’s aggressiveness is something else the LA Kings have been missing from their lineup.
Now that we know that Kevin Fiala has a tough side to him, what type of playing style does he play?
It depends on what you’re talking about. If you’re wondering how Fiala plays at even strength, that’s one thing. The power play is another. Let’s talk about his 5-on-5 play first.
Fiala has been known to be a goal scorer for quite a bit of time. But one thing you’ll notice is how a lot of his goals come in closer to the net rather than further away. As good of a shot as Fiala has, he also has good speed and good hands.
Because of that speed and those handles, Fiala has learned how to drive to the net and get pucks in close. Whether stealing the puck and leading to a breakaway or beginning the rush and driving to the net from there, he’s always found a way to get to the net rather than backing away and shooting from far.
An example of that would be that goal against the New York Rangers. As Fiala reads the play and sees the defensemen getting sucked into the middle, he explodes past the defenseman after receiving a pass. He continues going full speed before making a move to score a beautiful goal.
Explosiveness is another great attribute of Fiala. A lot of his speed comes from his starts, and that’s something scouts love to see. Players that know how to be quick and explosive with the first step are a key part of playing a high level of hockey. Here’s that on display:
Fiala received the pass from his teammate while having two defenders right on him. As the defenders transitioned, Fiala had already beaten them and was halfway to the net.
That’s because the moment he got the puck on his stick, he exploded into a powerful stride right past the defender. He never quit moving his legs. To finish off the move, he scored a nice goal by dekeing out the goalie and putting it top shelf.
Here’s a standout goal by Fiala using his crafty hands:
Another thing Fiala will bring to the LA Kings is how strong he is off the rush.
His micro stats show that his most prominent attributes are his zone entries. Most notably, his controlled entries with chances and with passing plays. Fiala loves to explode past the defenders and bring the puck down the ice.
In a sense, if you want a guy who can confidently attack the net, Fiala is your guy.
Here we can see Fiala driving down the middle of the ice before making a nice pass to his teammate, who stands at the wall. Despite his teammates slowing the pace down a bit, Fiala never stops moving, and he finds himself past the defenders and drives to the net. As he gets the pass, the defenders realize that Fiala has already broken the puck into the zone and is at the net attempting to score.
That’s just one example of him being able to drive plays like that and create scoring chances for his team. Here’s another example of him breaking the puck into the offensive zone.
This time he uses his hands and his speed as an advantage. Fiala rushes past two different players before coming into the zone. He bobbles the puck a little bit before finally settling it and sending it around the net for a nice dump and chase play. Being able to move swiftly and smoothly to enter the zone makes you wonder how much it can help players like Kopitar find his scoring touch if he goes to crash the net in a scenario like that.
As for the power play, Kevin Fiala did struggle a little bit with scoring on it. Many of the goals on the power play came from players like Joel Eriksson Ek and Kaprizov. But one noticeable thing was how much Fiala contributed to Minnesota’s power play. He’s mastered the cycle and creating dangerous plays. He may not be the scorer on the power play as he is at 5-on-5, but his ability to outsmart defenders and help his teammates will be a huge addition to the LA Kings.
The power play is an opportunity for Fiala to make creative and innovative plays to generate scoring chances. So not only does bringing him to LA help the team, but it makes hockey in SoCal so much more fun to watch.
For our final little treat, I can show you a cool move that Kevin Fiala has perfected that we will see a lot of in the upcoming 2022-23 season.
The toe drag shot. These are only two examples, but Fiala has scored several goals like this. He’s managed to learn how to use his patience to fake out defensemen. As the defenseman gets baited, he’ll wait for an open lane before firing it past the goalie. You’ll see him make that move instead of passing the puck on odd-man rushes.
With his new linemates that are both star caliber, it’s hard not to see Fiala recreate the season he had last year and maybe even do better than he did in 2021-22. By any means, Kevin Fiala is a massive get for the LA Kings.