Kevin Fiala again finds himself a non-contributor with the Nashville Predators, though his latest departure has nothing to do with his ability to compete at the NHL level.
The 20-year-old winger will miss the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs after breaking his left femur, or thigh bone, in Wednesday night's 4-3 win over the hometown St. Louis Blues to open a best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal.
"He is extremely disappointed that he will not be able to help his teammates in their quest for the Stanley Cup," Predators general manager David Poile said in a statement released by the team Thursday morning.
Fiala, who had two goals in Nashville's first five games in these playoffs, lost his balance while absorbing a hit by Blues defenceman Roberto Bortuzzo. As he slowed to brace for impact against the end boards, Fiala's legs separated and his left leg awkwardly jammed against the boards at 1:46 of the second period.
Play was halted for nearly 20 minutes before Fiala left the ice on a stretcher and was transferred to Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where he had surgery.
"It's a tough loss, there's no question," Predators captain Mike Fisher said Thursday. "Everything went well I guess and he's doing well. That's the main concern. He's one of those guys that's played really, really well so far in the playoffs and is a big part of our team."
Coach Peter Laviolette said Fiala had worked his way onto the power play and was among the team's top six forwards.
"He wants to get better, and it was getting to a point where he really was a difference-maker with the puck on his stick, as you saw in that overtime goal in the first round," Laviolette said. "It was a really, really nice play and a patient play. It's unfortunate for an accident like that to happen on the ice."
The Swiss forward had become a regular in the lineup since last returning from the American Hockey League in mid-February, scoring 11 goals and 16 points in 54 games.
Fiala failed to crack the Predators' lineup out of training camp in 2015 and took a sour attitude to the minors. He redeemed himself last October by making the team and carving out a scoring role on Nashville's top line but he was skating with the American league's Milwaukee Admirals in early November after seeing his role in the NHL gradually reduced.
11th overall pick
Fiala needed less than three weeks to earn a recall to Nashville after collecting eight points in seven contests.
"You're not happy when you go down [to the minors] but that's the kind of experience you need," Fiala, whom the Predators drafted 11th overall in 2014, told reporters recently. "You cannot do anything else but give 100 per cent, and that's how you get back up there."
Fiala hadn't looked back and quickly demonstrated his raw playmaking ability, finishing the season averaging 13 minutes 31 seconds on a line with centre Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal.
Nashville swept the Blackhawks in four straight in the first round, with Fiala scoring his first NHL playoff goal in a 5-0 victory on April 15 in Chicago to give the Predators a 2-0 series lead.
In Game 3, Nashville overcame a 2-0 deficit in the third period on a pair of Filip Forsberg goals before Fiala pushed the Blackhawks to the brink of elimination on a backhander 16:44 into overtime.