LA Kings: Gabe Vilardi ‘looks like a different man right now physically’

LA Kings (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LA Kings (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Healthy for the first time in quite a while, Gabe Vilardi is looking to take an enormous leap forward with the LA Kings in 2021.

When they drafted him 11th overall in 2017, the LA Kings put Gabe Vilardi front-and-center in their plans to, dare I say it, restore their championship success.

When healthy, Gabe Vilardi is a force to be reckoned with — a scoring machine, if you will — forcing opponents to do their homework when the youngster is on the ice. The operative term in that sentence, however, is “when healthy.”

Over the past few years, Vilardi has been bothered by back injuries. This limited his final junior season (2017-18) to 32 games and his first pro season — with the AHL’s Ontario Reign — to just four outings the following year.

Vilardi, though, has made the most of his opportunities.

In his final season of junior hockey, the youngster collected 22 goals and 58 points in those 32 games for his hometown Kingston Frontenacs. In 2019-20, however, despite coming off an injury-riddled campaign, the Kings called Vilardi up for a short stint. In 10 games for the big club, the then-20-year-old scored three goals and four assists. Needless to say, things are looking up for the first-rounder. But, to live up to his own promise, Vilardi needs to stay healthy.

Entering this year’s training camp, Vilardi looks to be on the right track.

Faced with an unusually long offseason, Vilardi made the most of his time. Determined to get better, the 21-year-old became more fit, which included adding a plethora of muscle to his 6-foot-3 frame.

Vilardi spoke to the media on Thursday following another day of training camp, addressing how important his offseason regimen was.

“Yeah, it’s really big for me,” the Kingston native said. “First time in three years now that I actually got to spend the summer working on getting better and not focusing on getting my body back to playing again. So, that was really, really good for me.”

While he did spend a good deal of his workout time on his own, Vilardi also spent a fair bit of time with the LA Kings’ conditioning team, including head strength and conditioning coaches Matt Price and Trent Frey.

“I felt I put a lot of work in with the guys here,” Vilardi continued. “I worked with Pricer, Trent, and those guys, they helped me out a lot, so it was good. It was fun, too.”

While his back injuries were evident, there was extra motivation for Valardi to get better, and why he looked bigger entering camp.

LA Kings Gabe Vilardi
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

“I think the biggest thing for me was conditioning,” the centerman noted. “I felt that last year, both in the AHL and in the NHL, my shifts would kind of fall off once I hit the 15-second mark. 10-15 seconds, I would kind of start to feel it. Obviously, I haven’t played a game yet — not like a real game — so I mean– I think my conditioning is so much more improved and that just comes with actually having a summer to train. So, I’m excited to see how I feel once we have a scrimmage on Saturday.”

Overall, the excitement for the former Windsor Spitfire is at an all-time high entering the 2019-20 campaign.

“I’m really excited to see how my legs feel,” Vilardi continued. “Yeah, I think I’m in pretty good shape right now.”

Vilardi’s new look has even caught the attention of his coach.

“Gabe looks like a different man right now physically,” stated Todd McLellan. “Looks stronger. I think his engine’s much better.

“The fact that he did all the work should make him feel comfortable and confident in what he can or can’t do on the ice, and having that confidence is a real big thing.”

When the LA Kings did draft him in 2017, hopes for Gabe Vilardi were as high as they could have been for any of their prospects. For Vilardi, in particular, there was — and is — something special that makes him a gem to hold onto for years to come. The LA Kings may have only caught a brief glimpse of this last season, but it is a case of quality over quantity — and that is never a bad thing.

If his new look and condition regimen are any indications, few will have to worry about Gabe Vilardi’s future trajectory. His back issues may not completely disappear, but fans can at least take consolation in knowing that the young star is stepping up his game as far as taking better care of himself goes.

Only time will tell in knowing just how the new-look Gabe Vilardi fares — and the good news is that we don’t have to wait very long.