The Kings made plenty of noise in the trade market Wednesday with their acquisition of prolific forward Kevin Fiala, but they otherwise remained silent through Thursday.
Fiala comes to Los Angeles from the Minnesota Wild, whose General Manager Bill Guerin spoke at length about the deal Wednesday. Fiala split his career almost evenly between the organization that drafted him 11th overall in 2014, the Nashville Predators, and Minnesota, where he arrived in February 2019. In 204 games with Nashville, he notched 97 points, but in 215 contests with Minnesota, he racked up 186 points, including 85 in his career-headlining campaign last season.
“I think Kevin has turned into a special player in the last couple of years in Minnesota,” Guerin said.
Guerin conceded that as time progressed, it became increasingly evident that his staff could not maneuver in a way that would have accommodated a contract extension for Fiala – he agreed to a new seven-year deal with the Kings worth an average of $7.875 million per season, the team confirmed –– and improved Minnesota’s roster.
While trading a point-per-game producer who has shown linear progress up to age 25 was a tough pill to swallow, Guerin appreciated the Kings’ direct, honest approach among what he implied were numerous suitors. Rather than wait until the upcoming NHL entry draft, Guerin opted to pull the trigger on a deal he considered “fair value,” netting a local product in University of Minnesota defenseman Brock Faber and a 2022’s 19th overall draft pick, which signified that Minnesota would have multiple first-round selections in two consecutive drafts.
“Teams asked,” Guerin said. “I don’t want to get into how many, but L.A., they came in right away and were serious right away. There was no tire-kicking or feeling-out process … so it made it easy to do a deal.”
Though the Wild and Kings have never met in the playoffs, there has been some animosity between the benches in recent years. The Wild were moved temporarily into the Kings’ division in 2021 and they faced off eight times, with the Wild winning six of those meetings and then two of three in 2021-22.
That familiarity did not deter Guerin and Kings GM Rob Blake from pursuing a transaction that would fill a significant hole for the Kings on the left side of their top line while allowing Minnesota to salvage a solid return for a pending restricted free agent whom they could not afford to sign.
“If you cut the league in half, that really limits your trade partners,” Guerin said. “If we’re worried about that all the time, we’ll never make deals.”
The swap left the Kings without a first-round pick in the draft, to be held July 7 and 8 in Montreal, which sets up the first instance since 2016 that they will not make a selection in Round 1. That was the fourth draft in six years that they did not own a first-round pick, having gone all-in to sustain the success that saw them reach the conference finals three times and win two Stanley Cups between 2012 and 2014.
It also thinned out their prospect group and depth at right defense, where Faber has excelled in collegiate and international play. The Kings, however, had something of an embarrassment of riches in both areas, with their prospect pool consistently ranking in the top five among various publications and a surplus of right defense at every level of the organization.
Last season, injuries to Drew Doughty and Sean Walker afforded opportunities to Jordan Spence and Sean Durzi. Meanwhile, Brandt Clarke is the Kings’ top prospect in junior hockey and Helge Grans projects to anchor the right side with their top minor-league affiliate next season. All six of the aforementioned rearguards play the right side.
Guerin was excited to add Faber, the Minnesota native and U.S. Olympian whom he called “a really high-end prospect,” to his own stable of aspiring blue-liners.
“You can never have too many defensemen. And we’re real proud of the guys that we have,” Guerin said. “At this upcoming World Junior (Championships), I think we’ll have three defensemen on Team Canada and two defensemen on Team USA.”
For the Kings’ part, they have transformed their top-six forward group in just two short years. While Anze Kopitar, who has led the Kings in scoring for 12 of the past 14 seasons, remains the fulcrum, the pieces have changed around him rapidly.
The emergence of Adrian Kempe as a 35-goal scorer gave him a constant running mate, just as longtime cohort Dustin Brown was set to retire. Fiala will now complete that line, and the Kings can only hope its chemistry matches that of the second line, which took shape in the middle of last season.
The acquisition of Viktor Arvidsson via trade, the signing of free agent Phillip Danault and the promotion of Trevor Moore within the lineup formed an unexpectedly potent trio. If their consistency can continue and be matched by the top line with the addition of Fiala, the Kings could be winning more games more comfortably next season.