NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Wild winger Kevin Fiala still texts Nashville Predators winger Filip Forsberg quite frequently. They were like brothers during Fiala’s tenure in the Music City and remain close even as Fiala makes his home in the Twin Cities.
“They are still my friends,” Fiala said of the Predators players before Thursday’s season opener at Bridgestone Arena. “I saw a few guys yesterday. But today is game day. No friends.”
While a big part of Fiala would love nothing more than to stick it to his former team — like he did last season when he netted a pair of goals in his return to his former rink — he claimed he’s more focused on starting this season off on the right foot.
“It’s the first game, and I’m just excited to get started,” Fiala said. “Not too much worried about the other team. Just worried about us.”
A near 50-point player two seasons ago for Nashville, Fiala has all the tools to be the “gamebreaker” former general manager Paul Fenton thought he could be when he traded for him. the 23-year-old from Switzerland is going to get every opportunity to do so this season playing in the top-six of the lineup, and it’s up to him to realize his potential.
“I feel great,” Fiala said when asked if he’s up to the challenge. “It’s been a long summer. Just ready to get started.”
That long summer was lengthened by the fact that Fiala didn’t signed until last month. He finally committed a two-year, $6 million contract right before the start of training camp and missed about a week after complications with his work visa.
That seemed to irk coach Bruce Boudreau, though he was impressed with Fiala’s fitness level upon his arrival
“Every day he practices and plays with us he gets better,” Boudreau said. “Is he up to 100 percent timing and everything else? I don’t think anybody is, because usually the first 10 games of the season is usually helter-skelter. It’s not as polished as the rest of the year goes. I think it’s a day-to-day-getting-better-for-him thing.”
That said, Fiala felt a marked improvement in himself playing in the final two preseason games.
“I mean, first game, and the second game it was completely different,” Fiala said. “I think the practices as well I felt better and better. And right now I feel on my game.”
While he doesn’t expect to get too emotional during Thursday’s game, Fiala admitted that he will always have a place in his heart for his former team.
“It’s still my first team,” he said. “But I feel great on this team right now. I feel home. This time it wasn’t a problem at all to come to this city. It actually feels like a road city.”
Victor Rask was unsurprisingly the last forward off the ice after Thursday’s morning skate. He currently is the odd-man out, buried on the depth chart behind centers like Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, Luke Kunin, and Joel Eriksson Ek, and his shaky play in the preseason certainly didn’t help his cause.
It could be tough sledding for Rask this season as he tries to work his way into the lineup. That said, Boudreau doesn’t want Rask to be content with sitting in the press box every night.
“There’s going to be a lot of competition, and we want the best players to play,” Boudreau said. “If we have guys pushing the guys that aren’t playing, it’s going to make them be accountable to play well most every night.”
Despite an up-and-down preseason, Nick Seeler got the nod to play over Carson Soucy for Thursday’s season opener. Both players figure to play a role on the blue line this season.
“Quite frankly, it’s the guy who’s been here longer,” Boudreau said when asked about his decision. “I just thought Seels has been the incumbent here, and Soucy’s done a great job to be here. But I always believe in giving the guys the chance that have been here the longest.”