Fia-La La Land: How the team members see the player the Kings didn’t have before

“I don’t think I’ve played with a player like Kevin before.”

This line says a lot when the speaker is Drew Doughty, right? Veteran of over 1,000 games and two-time Stanley Cup champion. But that’s what Kevin Fiala has brought to the Kings as we get through the middle of his first season with the organization.

Make no mistake, Doughty has played with some great players of his time, first being his current and old team mates Anze Koptillard and Jonathan Quick. But they are all different players. Fiala’s premium attacking package is different from most and has brought in an element that the Kings haven’t had in a while.

Gaborik is probably the closest, however [Kevin]”She was a little different from Gabi,” Doughty elaborated. “He’s a one-on-one player where Gabe was more quick, got tips on pucks and things like that. He was a really good player too, don’t get me wrong, but Kevin is a little bit different than him, I think he has more 1-on-1 ability A little bit of what Gabe was doing.”

A top scorer with 30 goals seven times – three with 40 – certainly isn’t a bad person to see yourself compared to and the 1-on-1 ability mentioned by Doughty is something that allows Villala to create an attack that sometimes seems out of nothing.

Kings head coach Todd McLellan said that in general, the Kings have to adjust their game on Fiala as much as Fiala has to adjust their game on the Kings. When you have an elite talent, someone who can produce offensively any night, that comes with the territory. McClellan described Fiala as a “gambler” when it came to looking things up the other way, though he settled more and more into the system as it became more comfortable. Twice over the past two weeks McClellan has completed elements of Fiala’s 200-foot game, which hasn’t come at the expense of any offensive production with 10 points over seven games played this month.

Given how Fiala’s game has influenced the Kings, for me it all starts with his playmaking abilities.

As you watch Fiala play, it is clear that he is capable of making and executing passes on the ice that most players simply cannot. Many may not even think about trying them, but Fiala seems to find a way to make it work more frequently than she thinks it might for the average player. It’s one aspect of his game that his current teammates – Blake Lizotte and Gabi Vilardi – and one of his more common team mates, Adrian Kempe, have had to learn and adapt to playing more together.

Velarde – Yes sure, he sees the game differently, which is why he’s an NHL All-Star. Get used to it, like all things take time to get used to, playing with different guys. It’s always a minor tweak, but so far it’s been pretty good.

Lizot – He’s doing some things that maybe with some of the other players, they’re making a play when it probably won’t be made, but he makes it work because he’s good. You should always be ready, always stay on the ice and basically expect to recover the puck at all times. It’s definitely a change of mindset from some of the other guys I’ve played with.

Kempe – I’ve never played a guy who made that many passes before. If I’m sitting on the bench, when I’m not playing with him and I’m like, ‘Oh, that pass never gets through’ and he ends up getting passed. It’s a skill he has and when you play with confidence a lot of these things work.

Velarde admitted he simply enjoyed watching Fiala play, with his high level of skill, while Lizot continued to complement how well he can hold the puck, as well as how he distributes it. Perhaps this is part of what makes him so effective, as he has the ability to be deceived by how well he can do both as needed. All three players agreed that you have to be ready at all times when you’re on the ice with Fiala, because he can see and make those plays that you might not have been ready for.

If you’re interested in looking back, you’ll see similar comments earlier this season from Carl Grundstrom and Rasmus Kupari, who made up the team’s third line alongside Fiala’s game-long return in November. Both admitted that they had never skated with a player like THT before. It is one of the many attacking units Fiala has been placed in this season and his production has been maintained regardless of who he plays with.

“He’s dangerous and can play up and down the lineup, his game carries with him wherever he goes,” McClellan said. β€œHe can play with big players, small players, quick or skilful players, straight line players. It’s rare to find a player like that and he makes the players around him better.”

When McClellan says Fiala makes those around him better, the numbers support the assertion. McClellan also described him as a team player and noted that there is no need for a conversation when it comes to which line on the chart he skates on, especially given the overall offensive success coming in various slots, because Fiala can excel in multiple situations.

Looking at the three most popular pairs of teammates this season, each pair scored a higher rate with Fiala on their line than without him. This includes the team’s best offensive duo of Kopitar and Kempe, as well as the duos of Lizotte and Vilardi, as well as Kupari and Grundstrom. The same can be said for expected goals too, with all three pairs showing more totals playing with Fiala than without him.

There’s also an increase in power play production lately, even if a lot of that has been driven by the game against Edmonton, plus more affection shown for Fiala’s defensive contributions as well. And McClellan noted recently that the coaching staff had compiled videos of Fiala, of plays he made defensively that led to offensive chances the other way, and he felt they were great and impactful.

β€œHe’s very committed on the field and he fits the team really well. He plays to win.”

As we reported this morning, Fiala was back in his usual line-up with Lizotte and Velarde during the day’s training, with Velarde back in the group after two days out. With the daily appointment, Velarde’s status is up in the air until he plays. McClellan said yesterday morning that he initially expected Velarde to play against the stars, so it appears he’s close to what might just be a brief absence.

When the Kings embark on a journey, having that balance in the lineup is key, something Fiala can achieve by playing on a down line with equal strength. How many opponents can they face a team that has a point per game and its second scorer on their third line? Don’t think it’s all a lot, when all three lines are overlapping. As noted above, Fiala has the ability to move around the lineup and be productive, with McLellan noting that the Kings can choose to design specific appearances for specific opponents. For now, the added depth is a boost for a team looking to get back in the winning column after a pair of home defeats.

Just landed in a honky-tonk, Insiders. Morning ski coverage to follow in the AM from Bridgestone Arena!

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 11: Kevin Fiala #22 of the Los Angeles Kings smiles during his pre-game warm-ups against the San Jose Sharks at Arena on January 11, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/NHLI via Getty Images)

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