Wild's Kevin Fiala rediscovers his finishing touch and more

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Sarah McLellan, Star Tribune
·4 min read
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SAN JOSE, CALIF. – Kevin Fiala had an unobstructed lane to the net, a chance at the first hat trick of his NHL career.

But the goal scorer didn't do what goal scorers normally do.

He passed the puck.

"I felt that the possibilities for a goal were more when I would drop it," Fiala said.

After burying another two goals Saturday in the 5-1 rout of the Ducks in Anaheim, Fiala has reemerged as the team's purest finisher — a knack for slinging pucks that is critical to the well-being of the Wild offense.

What would be even more helpful to the team, though, is if Fiala continues to diversify his portfolio by dabbling in the playmaking that capped off his three-point with his first assist of the season.

"I'm going to try to make plays and try to find the other guys," Fiala said. "I feel I've always been that type of guy which can do both."

Fiala has rediscovered his scoring touch after a slow start to the season.

All six of his goals, which are tied for the team lead, have come in his last seven games, a run that spans two interruptions.

First, Fiala was sidelined by a three-game suspension for boarding. Then, when he was on the brink of returning to the lineup, the Wild's season was stalled by a COVID-19 outbreak.

Even so, the 24-year-old winger hasn't looked rusty. He was around the puck in the team's first game back, a 4-0 loss at Los Angeles, and he had three goals during the two matchups in Anaheim — including back-to-back game-winners for the first time in his career.

How he is scoring has also been impressive.

Not only has Fiala dazzled — take his first goal Saturday when he turned on the jets to get by Ducks defenseman Ben Hutton and slap the puck by goalie John Gibson at top speed — but Fiala also hasn't been afraid to crash the net. He was the one to end the power play's woeful slide in the second period when he pounced on a loose puck just outside the crease, a greasy play but one just as effective as his highlight-reel rush earlier in the game.

"They all count," Fiala said. "I'm happy no matter how it goes in."

With the way he was moving against the Ducks, it seemed like Fiala had a legit try at racking up a third goal.

Instead, on that breakaway in the third period, he recognized the Wild had a 3-on-1 advantage and handed off the puck to Ryan Hartman and Hartman sent it over to Joel Eriksson Ek for the team's fifth goal.

Perhaps it wasn't a signature move, Fiala seeking out the pass rather than the shot, but he has the offensive instincts to do both.

"When Kevin Fiala is a good teammate and he's sharing the puck and he's playing within the system and doing all those right things," coach Dean Evason said, "Kevin Fiala has success."

So far this season, Fiala has made the most impact as a scorer but he was involved as a setup man in 2019-20 — not only tying his career-best goal total at 23, but also eclipsing the 30-assist mark for the first time as an NHLer to lead the Wild in points with 54.

As long as he keeps filling the net with pucks, the opposition should keep tabs on Fiala.

And that could go hand in hand with creating offense for whoever is on the ice with him, a dual-threat specialist who would make the team even more dynamic.

"Teams know you're a gifted goal scorer and [if] you can shoot as he can, then you get people drawn to you," Evason said. "That's when if you have good vision, which he does, and sees the ice, sees the plays open up and he makes those passes, then obviously he makes people around him better because of it.

"It's wonderful to be skilled and have the opportunity to score goals, but it's also wonderful to make people better around you and he certainly did that."