LA Kings: Calder Trophy candidates highlight Wild matchup

LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)
LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports) /

The last time the LA Kings played the Minnesota Wild, Kirill Kaprisov stole the show. The rookie sensation intercepted a misplayed Dustin Brown drop pass in overtime, burying a shot past Jonathan Quick in the 2021 season opener. Since then, the 23-year-old has added five assists to his point total, leading all rookies with six points heading into Tuesday’s matchup.

On the flip side, the Kings have their own rookie starting to get hot. Gabe Vilardi made his debut for the team to close out the 19-20 season, scoring seven points in ten games. His first goal of the 2021 season came against the Wild, on a truly wild play at the net. The goal was initially credited to Adrian Kempe, and in what seems like a daily tradition, was later given to Vilardi.

Since then, the 21-year-old has added two more goals to his point tally, tied for the NHL’s lead in goals among rookies. He has thrived centering the team’s third line with Dustin Brown playing on his right-wing. Vilardi has two goals in his last three games, including an incredible backhanded shot in Sunday’s dominating 6-3 victory over the Blues.

Vilardi is naturally a pass-first center, but he has such a fantastic shot, and he’s figuring out the balance between the two. A couple of times during the Blues series, Vilardi should have taken the shot on net but chose to pass in odd-man rushes.

The Kings will have to limit the damage done by Kaprizov, whether it be his ability to score goals or get other players involved in the scoring. After stealing the first two games of the year, the Wild have gone 2-2 in their last four games.

With the LA Kings veteran players thinking playoffs this season, it’s critical the team, at the very least, splits the two-game series at the Xcel Energy Center. Obviously, a sweep would be the best-case scenario, and it will be interesting to see who the Wild has in between the pipes both nights.

The Kings saw Cam Talbot both times before, but the 33-year-old left Friday’s start with a lower-body injury. Rookie Kaapo Kähkönen has made three starts on the season, posting a rookie-best 2.27 GAA and .921 SV%. Undrafted goalie Andrew Hammond will reportedly serve as the team’s backup.

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Kähkönen allowed four goals to the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night. Either way, rookies will have a significant say in the outcome for the two-game set. It should make for a fun and exciting matchup.