Kevin Fiala didn't concentrate on his future with the Wild last season while he was playing.
"I just tried to have fun with the guys," Fiala said. "Just tried to win some games. That was my main focus."
But in the back of his mind, he did wonder what would happen and ultimately realized the team wouldn't be keeping him, a split that was finalized last week when the Wild traded Fiala to Los Angeles.
"It is what it is right now," Fiala said Tuesday during a video call with reporters. "To be honest, I'm really excited right now for this new chapter."
This fresh start with the Kings comes with a seven-year, $55.125 million contract, a lucrative commitment indicative of Fiala's rise with the Wild.
After arriving from Nashville in 2019 in exchange for Mikael Granlund, the winger was a dynamic scorer during back-to-back 20-goal campaigns before notching a career-high 33 last season. His 52 assists and 85 points were also personal bests, but the surge in production wasn't the only change. Fiala, who struggled with turnovers at times during his Wild tenure, was also sharper defensively and even helped out on the penalty kill.
"I thought it was important to take the next step, to be an all-around player," he said. "I played better defensively, played some PK minutes and offensively I had a great season with points."
Overall, in 215 games with the Wild, Fiala totaled 79 goals and 107 assists for 186 points to lead the team in scoring during that time.
Still, his outlook with the Wild was uncertain.
Last year when Fiala, Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek were up for contracts, only Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek secured long-term deals. Fiala signed for one year at $5.1 million, once again making him a restricted free agent after the season when the Wild would have limited spending power — a tight budget that essentially couldn't afford to pay Fiala. (The average annual value of Fiala's new contract, which is $7.875 million, actually exceeds the Wild's current salary cap space of approximately $6.6 million.)
Cue Los Angeles, which coveted Fiala's skill set and worked out a trade with the Wild over the course of 10 days, Kings General Manager Rob Blake said. The Wild received prospect and Gophers defenseman Brock Faber last Wednesday as well as a first-round pick, No.19, ahead of the draft that gets underway Thursday in Montreal.
"I just think the ability of his breakout-type plays, things that in a very close game or tight game he can change that, and he can help you win," Blake said. "He's competitive in that nature. We look forward to fitting him into our group."
In Los Angeles, Fiala saw an opportunity with an up-and-coming team that's improving, and he regarded the Kings as being a tough matchup.
For the first time in four years, they made the playoffs last season and it's possible Fiala fills out a line with captain Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe, the team's top two scorers.
"The future is bright I felt like," Fiala said, "so I'm very happy with this."
Although he's excited for the warmer weather in Southern California, the 25-year-old will miss his former teammates.
While with the Wild, Fiala said he learned how to be a professional and felt appreciative of the experience.
"It was a great time playing there the last three years," he said. "It was fun with the guys. I loved the people there, just a special group. I had a lot of fun there. Very grateful to be playing there for three years. It was great."