The Minnesota Wild checked off the final box on their offseason to-do list on Wednesday, signing winger Kevin Fiala to a two-year, $6 million contract ($3M AAV).
While former Wild GM Paul Fenton justifiably gets roasted for the Nino Niederreiter – Victor Rask trade, Fiala for Mikael Granlund should be graded as “Incomplete.” Fiala, 23, is younger than the 27-year-old Granlund, and comes at almost half the price, as Granlund carries a $5.75M cap hit through the final season of his current deal. When it comes to Granlund vs. Fiala, it’s relevant to wonder if the Wild were always going to walk away from Granlund, making Fiala a logical replacement being that he’s cheaper and younger.
The most interesting question is: how much better can Fiala get?
In some ways, the situation reminds me a bit of the Montreal Canadiens acquiring Max Domi, and then giving him a two-year deal. It turns out that Montreal probably wishes it could have signed Domi for longer, as he enjoyed a breakout season in 2018-19. Fiala might be primed for something similar in 2019-20, at least if the pieces fall the right way.
We’ve seen flashes of brilliance over the years from Fiala, who brings considerable speed to the table.
Fiala scored a number of big goals during his Nashville Predators days, including this one that clinched a double-overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets:
The Swiss scorer also overcame what looked like a devastating leg injury, one that’s still difficult to watch:
Even so, the Predators lost patience as Fiala’s potential didn’t always translate to production.
As with a lot of players who get traded, Fiala’s lack of puck luck stands out. He only scored on 7.6 percent of his shots last season with Nashville, and that cold shooting continued in 19 games with the Wild, where he only converted on 7 percent of his shots on goal. You can understand why excitement is a little more muted for Fiala following a 13-goal season in 2018-19 after he managed a career-high of 23 goals in 2017-18.
Again, though, consider potential parallels with Domi.
Domi’s final season with the Coyotes was a disaster, as he only managed nine goals (and 45 points) with a miserable 6 shooting percentage in 2017-18. A year later, Domi scored 28 goals (and 72 points), with his shooting percentage skyrocketing to 13.8.
Now, I’m not saying Fiala is going to flirt with 30 goals and 70 points in 2019-20, but he was on a trajectory where 25 goals wouldn’t be totally out of the question, and like Domi, Fiala has the pedigree of a first-rounder (Fiala was picked 11th overall in 2014).
One could fear Fiala being Another Mason Raymond: a speedy player who doesn’t have the skill to make the most of that skating. But I’m not alone in thinking that Fiala could move the needle; The Athletic’s Ian Tulloch listed Fiala at No. 5 on his list of breakout candidates for next season (sub required):
He isn’t one of those speedsters who just gains the zone and fires a low percentage shot from the outside (e.g. Kasperi Kapanen or Jake Virtanen). He’s consistently been one of the better players in the league at making a pass after gaining the zone, which Harman Dayal helped show is an extremely important aspect of generating offence in the modern game.
I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Fiala at $3M ends up being a steal for the Wild … especially if he can get some bounces.
For a Wild team that could use some value contracts, and a new GM in Bill Guerin, this is a solid win.
Now we just need to convince people to start calling him “The Fiala Bear.”
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.