ST. PAUL — Paul Fenton’s 14-month tenure as general manager of the Minnesota Wild was almost universally panned by all. But one of his biggest moves here seems to be working out well.
That’s the emergence of 23-year-old winger Kevin Fiala, who is slowly starting to prove that he might be a foundational piece of the franchise’s future. Just like Fenton, who was fired on July 30, suspected all along.
“He’s got the ability to be the game-breaker, which is the thing I find the most exciting,” Fenton said after trading for Fiala nearly 10 months ago. “I’m willing to take the chance that he’s going to be the game-breaker in the positive sense for us.”
While the young skater from Switzerland struggled to assimilate with the Wild last season, and got off to a slow start this season, Fiala has been one of the Wild’s best players the past month or so. He has 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) in his past 14 games, using his youthful legs to create chances galore in the offensive zone, along with some harrowing moments in the defensive zone.
“He’s obviously got a lot more confidence now,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, who sent Fiala a message twice earlier this season by scratching him from the lineup. “He also feels comfortable with his linemates and the rest of his teammates.”
That confidence and comfort was on full display during Sunday’s shootout win over the Dallas Stars.
While the Wild had just fallen behind late in the final period, Fiala, who scored earlier in the game, exuded a sense of calm sitting next to captain Mikko Koivu on the bench.
“They got the goal and Kevin was actually next to me and he said, ‘We’ve still got a lot of time here,’ ” Koivu said. “We knew we had an opportunity to tie it up (on the power play).”
Fittingly, Fiala played a big role in the game-tying goal, digging a puck out of the corner, finding some open ice, then firing a shot on net before Zach Parise skillfully batted in the rebound out of midair.
“It was just momentum,” Fiala said. “Maybe a bad penalty for them to take at that time. We were just getting excited. The crowd helped us to get into it — and great, great goal by Zach.”
That sent the game into overtime, when Fiala once again emerged as the star. He was all over the place — in the best way possible — and nearly ended the game with a partial breakaway at the buzzer.
“I really like the 3-on-3 and just playing like that,” Fiala said. “You take some risks sometimes with 2-on-1s.”
It’s certainly a style of play that suits his game, though with the way Fiala has been playing as of late, most styles are starting to suit his game.
“I love the way he’s been playing and the way he’s been competing to get the puck when we don’t have it,” Parise said. “I know going in on the forecheck that he’s always going to be right there, too, to get the scraps, or he’ll be the first one in there and I can get the loose pucks. I think we’re meshing really well from that standpoint, and then he’s making good plays with the puck. He’s making the right plays and we’re developing some good chemistry.”