When Kevin Fiala stepped on the ice to represent Switzerland at the World Championship on Friday, he joined some very exclusive company and did something no other player had done for 11 years.
By suiting up for his home country, Fiala became just the third player in history to play in the Under-18, Under-20 and Men’s World Championships in the same year. The only two players to do it previously were former NHLer Andrei Kostitsyn and Vadim Karaga, who played all three tournaments for Belarus in 2003. (Kostitsyn, coincidentally, is playing for the host country in this year’s tournament.)
It’s quite a feat for a player who doesn’t turn 18 until July, about a month after he almost certainly goes in the first round of the NHL draft. In our upcoming annual Draft Preview, The Hockey News ranked Fiala as the 13th best prospect for this year’s entry draft.
Fiala is an undersized winger at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, but that has not stopped him from becoming a dynamic offensive player. Instead of staying in Switzerland, Fiala moved to Sweden, where he split time this season between HV-71’s junior and Swedish League teams. With the likes of Sven Baertschi and Damien Brunner on the Swiss roster, it’s unlikely Fiala will pull off the trifecta of leading each of the three teams in scoring, but then again, you never know. It's not as though he's never excelled against elevated competition before.
“This guy plays bigger than his size. He’s dynamic,” said one NHL scout. “He creates offense in the similar way to Patrick Kane, but he’s not as heavy. It’s funny using the word ‘heavy’ when talking about Patrick Kane, but these two guys have the same explosiveness and they have very similar skill sets in terms of releasing the puck when they’re moving without breaking stride.”
The criticism of Fiala is, as it is with many young players, his defensive game. Scouting reports on his game below the dots in his own zone range from ‘dreadful’ to ‘needs work,’ but there is no denying his offensive tools. After leading Switzerland in scoring in the Ivan Hlinka Tournament last fall, he scored a goal and five points in five games to top all Swiss scorers in the World Juniors, then exploded for 4-5-9 totals in five games at the Under-18 World Championship.
But his impressive scoring isn’t limited to play with his own peers. In 17 games with HV-71, Fiala put up a very respectable 3-8-11 totals playing on the third line with and against men. Playing above his age group and weight class is nothing new for Fiala, though. His father Jan, a Czech ex-pat who played in the lower Swiss leagues, began coaching his son after he retired and had him playing against 15-year-old players when his son was just 11. In 2010-11, he played with Switzerland’s under-17 team and scored 10 goals and 20 points in 25 games.
“The thing I like about him is he wants to be a difference maker in every single game,” another scout said. “It’s almost like he takes it personally when he’s playing with a guy at his level in the draft. Lots of times you wish you could get more compete from the skill guys, but with him you almost have to pull it back.”
Fiala has developed nicely in Sweden and there’s no reason for him not to continue his development there, but it will be interesting to see whether he is selected in the Canadian Hockey League’s Import Draft this year.