Kevin Fiala

Wild will seek spark anew from surging Fiala when NHL’s back

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Frozen by the virus shutdown but not forgotten was Kevin Fiala‘s emergence, a surge that gave the Minnesota Wild a glimpse of the go-to scorer they have lacked for much of their history.

Emelia Parise will remember it as well as anyone.

Zach Parise‘s daughter became quite the fan as her father’s teammate racked up 14 goals and 12 assists over the last 18 games before NHL play was halted. When school was still in session earlier this year, Parise’s 6-year-old twins, Emelia and Jaxson, took part in a pick-a-local-sports-hero project with their classmates who were well aware of Parise’s occupation.

”I’d say 90% of them wrote Zach Parise’s their favorite. Except for my daughter. She wrote Kevin Fiala,” Parise said recently. ”So that’s how things are going in my household right now.”

Who could blame her? The 23-year-old left wing had already matched his career best with 23 goals and blown by his personal assists record (31). Fiala leads the league with four game-winning goals.

”He’s been playing awesome for us,” Parise said. ”He was on a tear before this thing ended up happening, so hopefully he can keep that momentum.”

If the 2019-20 season ever resumes, Fiala’s sequestering spot at his summer home in Gothenburg, Sweden, ought to help him recapture some of that mojo. There, society has operated under fewer restrictions, allowing Fiala the opportunity for daily ice time. He has skated with fellow NHL players Anton Blidh, Pierre Engvall and John Klingberg to try to stay in shape.

”It’s very important for me to be consistent and just continue like I finished, if it continues or if it’s going to start next season, you know?” Fiala said on Wednesday on a video conference call with reporters. ”I’m comfortable I can do that.”

He later added: ”I don’t want it to be just one season. I have a lot of work to do, and I’m still a young player. My career is hopefully still long.”

The only pure scorer with true take-over-a-game ability the Wild have had in their two decades is Marian Gaborik, who had 38 goals in 2005-06 and 42 in 2007-08. The only other Wild player to ever top the 35-goal mark was Eric Staal, with 42 goals in 2017-18. Whenever the NHL gets the green light to stage games again, the spotlight will be on Fiala as he attempts to continue his development into the top-line star the Wild have been waiting for.

”He’s the guy where fans are starting to get out of their seats now,” goalie Alex Stalock said last month before the shutdown. ”Not only can he do it, with the moves and be a defenseman, but the puck finds the back of the net, and that’s not easy to do.”

Fiala’s production in February and March provided some validation for former general manager Paul Fenton’s otherwise unsatisfying 15 months on the job. Acquired just before the trade deadline from Nashville for another underperforming first-round draft pick, right wing Mikael Granlund, Fiala finished with only 13 goals in 83 games between the Predators and the Wild.

This season started similarly slow for him, as the Wild fell immediately into a big hole in the Western Conference standings. Fiala didn’t score until November. Over a 17-game stretch from Dec. 17 through Feb. 1, he had only one goal. He began to find a groove after that, though, with those slick stick skills and keen ice vision coming to the surface and helping the Wild climb back into the playoff chase.

When coach Bruce Boudreau was fired on Feb. 14, the promotion of Dean Evason to replace him gave Fiala the comfort of a familiar voice who already knew his game inside and out. They played three seasons together in the AHL in Milwaukee, Nashville’s primary affiliate.

”Honestly, I didn’t have the patience sometimes, so we got sometimes into a fight,” Fiala said, ”but when I look back, I was always happy I did it that way, and I was happy he was my coach, because he taught me a lot of things.”

Evason’s bid to shed the interim tag and become the next bench boss has been held up by the pandemic. His connection with Fiala sure won’t hurt his candidacy.

”The team was rolling,” Fiala said. ”We had some huge wins in the end, and just one point right now outside of the playoffs, especially with that start we had, we want to get back.”

PHT Morning Skate: Eddie Lack retires; Progress post-pandemic?

Eddie Lack retires from hockey Morning Skate
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• William Douglas mourns Marlowe Stoudamire, who passed away at age 43 because of COVID-19. Stoudamire made a big impact in Detroit, including helping to create the “Learn, Play, Score” program. That $1M program helped bring the sport to about 30,000 children in Detroit. Heartbreaking for sure, but Stoudamire clearly made a big impact on the sport and on his city. (NHL.com)

Eddie Lack retires

• Eddie Lack announced his retirement from hockey with a really wonderful four-part series of videos. For one thing, there’s plenty of humor involved. Kudos to Lack for poking fun at himself for allowing a long-distance goal from Brian McGrattan (!), and Roberto Luongo for poking fun at Lack for a stain.

The thread is particularly worth your time for Canucks fans and/or Swedish hockey fans:

It’s sad to see Eddie Lack retire, being that he’s only 32. As Lack said, though, hip issues weren’t making life any easier, so he’s moving on to a career in real estate.

Eddie Lack last played for the AHL’s Binghamton Devils in 2018-19, and his final NHL action came with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18. So, yeah, it’s fair if your immediate reaction was: “Wait, didn’t Eddie Lack already retire?”

Other NHL/hockey headlines

• The Globe & Mail’s Morgan Campbell takes a look at how the NHL and other leagues might approach things post-pandemic. Could there be some silver linings? Campbell wonders, for instance, if leagues use this as a catalyst to improve ways of experiencing events even while de-emphasizing the in-arena experience. Organizations/leagues who are spry might be most adept at “taking lemons and making lemonade.” (The Globe & Mail)

• Kevin Fiala was never as happy or confident in hockey as he was late in 2019-20 — until the coronavirus pause happened. Even so, he believes that red-hot player we saw wasn’t merely an aberration. Instead, Fiala believes that’s simply what he is now. (Star-Tribune)

• Claude Giroux explains that the Flyers are trying to be positive, rather than frustrated, with the pause. (The Hockey News)

• High-end 2020 NHL Draft prospect Quinton Byfield is only 17. Yet, despite his age and the interruption, Byfield aims for an immediate jump to the NHL next season. He certainly has the size to play with the big boys at 6-foot-4. (TSN)

• In hindsight, Seth Jones made a wise decision in undergoing surgery rather than leaning on natural healing. Thanks to the hiatus, Jones won’t need to rush back, either. This situation is especially advantageous for 2019-20, but maybe also overall? The Blue Jackets can take heart in at least one thing working out well for them with this pause. (1st Ohio Battery)

• Projecting where the Penguins would be at if the season didn’t get paused. (Pensburgh)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Hockey community rallies for Nashville tornado relief

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• People are stepping up to help those affected by the Nashville tornadoes. That includes the Predators’ Alumni Association donating $20K, but not just that team. Both the Wild and current Wild owner/former Predators owner Craig Leipold are donating $25K apiece in tornado relief efforts. The NHL announced that it is matching that $50K for tornado relief as well. Fantastic stuff stemming from that terrifying natural disaster. (The Tennessean)

• How did the Lightning turn their season around? Can this season’s team compare to the 2018-19 version that stomped through the regular season, and what about the playoffs? (ESPN)

• Some of the Lightning’s turnaround boils down to Andrei Vasilevskiy getting on track. This post looks at a similar trajectory for Mike Smith, who is heating up while Mikko Koskinen stays steady. Between the two, the Oilers have enjoyed reliable goaltending lately. (Oilers Nation)

Bryan Rust‘s breakout season boils down to combining his talent with the Penguins giving him a better opportunity to succeed. (Pensburgh)

• The Maple Leafs look better by a lot of metrics since Sheldon Keefe took over, but goaltending hasn’t been panning out. How much might it help to lighten Frederik Andersen‘s burden? (Rotoworld)

• Speaking of underlying numbers, these smile upon the chances for both the Wild and Hurricanes making late-season playoff pushes. (NHL.com)

[HURRICANES FACE FLYERS ON NBCSN ON THURSDAY; WATCH IT LIVE]

• Now, while goaltending has been letting the Leafs down lately, GM Kyle Dubas views defense as a “long-term need.” (TSN)

• Are the Flames on the verge of a goalie controversy? (Sportsnet)

• In standing firmly behind Claude Julien going forward, Habs GM Marc Bergevin is also gambling on himself. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• No, Valeri Nichushkin hasn’t generated the kind of offense that was expected of him as the 10th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. Nichushkin has, however, become a useful play-driving forward as he settles into a still-fairly-new niche as an Avalanche supporting cast member. (The Hockey News)

I mean, look at these almost-off-the-charts Evolving Hockey RAPM charts for Nichushkin:

Kevin Fiala continues to be a catalyst for the Wild’s surge. (Pioneer-Press)

• Breaking down the Flyers’ elite penalty kill. (Broad Street Hockey)

• What’s been different about Cory Schneider during his latest return back with the Devils? (NJ.com)

• Hm, it’s been a while since the Senators experienced some drama … (The Score)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Fiala stays hot; Rust’s hat trick gets Pens back on track

Kevin Fiala #22 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates after scoring a goal
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Three Stars

1) Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins

His third NHL hat trick helped the Penguins end a six-game slide as they defeated the Ottawa Senators, 7-3. Rust broke a 1-1 tie late in the opening period with a perfectly placed wrist shot from the high slot. He netted his second at 13:29 of the third when he buried a loose puck in front after crashing the net. No. 17 would complete his hat trick late in the third after forcing a turnover near the blue line then firing a wrist shot between the goaltenders’ pads. Evgeni Malkin had four assists and Sidney Crosby recorded his 800th career helper as the Penguins restored order in Pittsburgh with an important victory.

2) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

When you think of elite goal scorers, Connor does not immediately jump to the top of the list for many. However, the 23-year old is tied for sixth in the NHL scoring race and is closing in on his first career 40-goal season. Connor scored twice and added an assist in the Jets’ 3-1 win against the Sabres at Bell MTS Place. He has scored in four consecutive games and registered his sixth multi-goal game of the season as the Jets picked up their second win in the previous two games. Connor netted his first of the evening when he buried a perfect feed from Blake Wheeler at 13:59 of the first period. He notched his second of the game in the middle frame when he quickly pounced on a loose puck in front and buried the rebound.

The Jets remain in a heated wild-card race in the Western Conference, but Connor’s consistent offensive production should help Winnipeg reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

3) Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild

Fiala scored in his fifth straight game to lead the Wild to a crucial 3-1 victory against the Nashville Predators. The Swiss forward has five goals and six assists in the previous five games. Minnesota is only one point from both Western Conference Wild Card spots and has played two less games than the Jets who occupy the position currently. Fiala’s 23 points since February 4 are second most in the NHL, trailing the scorching-hot Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers.

Highlights of the Night

Jake DeBrusk won a foot race and converted a breakaway to break a 10-game scoring drought as the Bruins topped the Lightning, 2-1.

Mitch Marner put the puck between his legs then slid a backhanded shot past Martin Jones to even the score at 2-2.

Fiala maneuvered around Ryan Ellis with a patient toe drag and then evened the score at 1-1 with a nifty wrist shot.

Charles Hudon’s wicked wrist shot helped the Montreal Canadiens cruise past the New York Islanders, 6-2.

Patrick Kane helped Dylan Strome notch his second goal with a perfect cross-ice pass in the Blackhawks’ 6-2 win.

Craig Smith snagged a puck with his glove then rifled a bouncing puck into the back of the net.

Push for the Playoffs

Stats of the Night

Injury news

Scores

Montreal Canadiens 6, New York Islanders 2
St. Louis Blues 3, New York Rangers 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Ottawa Senators 3
Boston Bruins 2, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Minnesota Wild 3, Nashville Predators 1
Winnipeg Jets 3, Buffalo Sabres 1
Chicago Blackhawks 6, Anaheim Ducks 2
Edmonton Oilers 2, Dallas Stars 1 (OT)
Vegas Golden Knights 3, New Jersey Devils 0
San Jose Sharks 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

PHT Morning Skate: Panarin, Draisaitl spurring Hart Trophy debates

Panarin Draisaitl Hart
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• An argument for Artemi Panarin being the Hart frontrunner, whether the Rangers make the playoffs or not. (Blueshirt Banter)

• Travis Yost breaks down more than one conundrum the Rangers face regarding Henrik Lundqvist, and their goaltending in general. (TSN)

• Panarin isn’t the only one getting talked up, as Andrew Berkshire recently did a deep dive on Leon Draisaitl pushing for the Hart. This was posted before Draisaitl’s four-goal, five-point outburst from Monday, but it’s still worth looking at. (Sportsnet)

• Let’s bring that Panarin, Draisaitl, and Hart Trophy talk together with a look at that race. (ESPN)

• The coronavirus is disrupting international hockey events, as the IIHF canceled tournaments and Swiss League postponed playoffs. (The Hockey News)

• Amalie Benjamin offers up a slice of life for Cammi Granato, who is now a full-time pro scout for Seattle’s expansion franchise. Granato explains to Benjamin that “it’s a natural progression,” even if Granato also believes she still has a lot to learn. The profile is part of NHL.com’s celebration of Gender Equality Month. (NHL.com)

• Penguins fans might be feeling worried as their team is mired in a six-game losing streak. Adam Gretz breaks down how this team has responded to similar slumps during the Sidney Crosby era. The basic takeaway: the Penguins bounce back quickly. (Pensburgh)

Justin Williams wishes he had made a bigger offensive impact so far (six points in 16 games) but otherwise feels like himself during his return. He remains a remarkably strong play-driver, particularly for a 38-year-old. (The News & Observer)

• Former Wild GM Paul Fenton stumbled through some missteps, no doubt. The Kevin Fiala trade, however, looks like a deft bit of movement. Now the Wild just need to take the next step and embrace my nickname, “The Fiala Bear.” (Star-Tribune)

• The Canucks are allowing a troublingly high rate of scoring chances on defense. That’s especially glaring whenever Quinn Hughes isn’t on the ice. (Vancouver is Awesome)

• What are Habs GM Marc Bergevin’s plans for the offseason? (Featurd)

• Craig Berube’s blunt way of discussing the Blues ranks as one of his strengths. (St. Louis Game Time)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.