Kevin Fiala, Kings ready to take next step together

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Nearly a week after acquiring forward Kevin Fiala and investing more than $55 million into him over the next seven seasons, the Kings introduced their newest member on Thursday.

The organization had been trying diligently to find a first-line left winger dating to the outset of the careers of battle-tested veterans like Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick. Ponikarovsky, Sturm, Loktionov, Penner and a host of other names one would have been disappointed to draw in a game-winning goal pool cycled through a revolving door. The biggest swing, Ilya Kovalchuk in 2018, became arguably the most massive miss. Only Marian Gaborik broke the cold spell briefly, and that helped the Kings immensely in capturing the franchise’s second Stanley Cup title in 2014.

While earlier this summer General Manager Rob Blake laid out a to-do list that entailed multiple acquisitions, the Kings committed what projected to be most if not all of their remaining salary cap space after re-signing essential restricted free agents to Fiala, who became the team’s third highest-paid player on an annual basis behind Drew Doughty and Kopitar.

“When we knew we had an opportunity to get a player of Kevin’s caliber, that took the forefront right away,” Blake said. “We were going to make sure that we got that in place because that would be the biggest improvement to the team.”

Blake said Fiala checked box after box among the Kings’ criteria for making an acquisition at the cost of a first-round draft pick and a highly touted prospect. The 25-year-old was young, improving, under team control and an asset that could carry them forward not for a season but potentially across a generation.

Much of Blake’s discussion with Fiala centered on Fiala’s desire to win and sustain excellence, which only further enthused the Kings’ braintrust.

“He spoke really highly of our veterans, which he should, the guys that have been here, that have been able to lead this team to some Stanley Cups and maintain that same drive within the dressing room,” Blake said. “In a very close game or a tight game, he can change that and help you win. He’s competitive by nature and we look forward to fitting him into our group.”

Fiala had a marvelous season in Minnesota (33 goals, 52 assists), and he did so without playing with high-profile linemates or milking the power play for points. His play with rookie Matthew Boldy and unheralded Frederic Gauthier saw his game round out, his shot mentality flourish and his possession numbers impress, all while getting results that allowed him to set career highs in almost every major statistical category.

Fiala is also known as a player who relishes big moments in the third period and whose skill set makes him a force in overtime, especially in the three-on-three format of the regular season.

Yet last year’s banner campaign ended with a first-round loss to the St. Louis Blues in which Fiala had a limited impact. In 2018, Fiala skated for Switzerland in the World Championships. He helped them to an unanticipated berth in the final and assisted on the game’s first goal, but his sterling opportunity in overtime was a one-timer that he fired low and straight into the goalie’s glove, leaving the Swiss to settle for silver. A year earlier, he was a member of the Nashville Predators, who made a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final sans Fiala after he broke his femur and ruptured an artery during their first-round series.

“You want to be a difference-maker and a playoff-type of player,” Fiala said. “That’s the next goal for me, to not just be good in the regular season, but to be better in the playoffs.”

If Fiala were to replicate his 85-point season with the Kings, it would equal the second-highest point total by a Kings player in the past 20 years, trailing only the 92 scored by Kopitar in 2017-18 and tying Ziggy Palffy’s 85 in 2002-03.

There is reason to believe Fiala could improve his total. He figures to finally be on a top line with marquee running mates and also likely be on the top power-play unit, which he was not in Minnesota. While it’s hard to write a lineup card in permanent ink in July, all indicators point to Fiala filling the vacancy to the left of Kopitar and Adrian Kempe, who also made a significant leap with a 35-goal campaign in 2021-22.

“Kopitar has been in the league for a long, long time, has won Stanley Cups, he has done it all,” Fiala said. “Kempe had an unbelievably great year last year and he’s rising, so I’m very excited if I will get a chance with those two guys.”

Fiala might not be physically imposing and his scoring prowess will steal the headlines, but he has excelled in corners and at the netfront. He has been unabashed in delivering reverse hits when the opportunity has arisen.

“If there is a good hit to be made, I will make it. I’m an offensive guy but defensively I’m getting stronger and stronger,” Fiala said.

The Kings identified Fiala as a potential fit easily given his production, age, acquisition cost and other factors, but Fiala was also complimentary of the Kings in describing what made him want to sign long-term.

“I see the team coming up,” Fiala said. “They made the playoffs last year, they have a great group of guys I’ve heard, on the ice they’re just getting better and better, they’ve got some great young players and the future’s bright.”

DEVELOPMENT CAMP, PRESEASON SCHEDULE

The Kings also released some upcoming dates, beginning with the start of their development camp on Monday, July 11. They also revealed their seven-game preseason schedule, which includes three against the Ducks and two each against San Jose and Vegas:

Sun., Sept. 25: Kings at San Jose – 4 p.m.

Mon., Sept. 26: Kings at Vegas – 7 p.m.

Wed., Sept. 28: Kings vs. San Jose at Toyota Arena in Ontario – 7 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 2: Kings vs. Ducks – 6 p.m.

Tues., Oct. 4: Kings at Ducks – 7 p.m.

Thurs., Oct. 6: Kings vs. Vegas at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City – 6 p.m.

Sat., Oct. 8: Kings vs. Ducks – 2 p.m.

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