LA Kings: Is it time to move Gabe Vilardi to the wing?

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

The LA Kings are so loaded with center prospects that some of them will have to move to the wing. Should Gabe Vilardi be one of them?

When the LA Kings drafted center Gabe Vilardi 11th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, many believed he could be the steal of the draft. For most of his career in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Vilardi was considered a contender to be a top-five pick in the NHL draft. A back injury that began while playing in the OHL would prove to be severe enough to delay the start of his professional career by over one year.

Once his back injury healed, Vilardi began his playing time in the LA Kings organization with their AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign. His play there earned him a call up to the Kings on February 20th, 2020, and in his first game in the NHL, he scored on his first shot while on his first shift.

He played a total of ten games for the Kings in 2020, scoring ten points in ten games. , playing mostly on a line with right-winger Martin Frk – someone he had seemed to develop chemistry with from their days together with the Reign.

It looked like the sky was the limit.

With the rest of the LA Kings center prospects deemed to need more time to develop, Gabe Vilardi was penciled in as the team’s second-line center for the 2021 season. The promise from last season, however, has not carried over to this season so far.

Vilardi has struggled to get anything going offensively, scoring only three goals to go with zero assists – despite being known more as a playmaker than a goal scorer. Coach Todd McLellan has moved the 21-year-old down to the third line center, replaced by first Blake Lizotte and now Michael Amadio.

The sagging offense is not the only factor in Vilardi’s demotion down the lineup. To put it simply, he has been abysmal in the faceoff dot. NHL centers are expected to win more faceoffs than they lose – it’s essential for their team’s ability to control play in whatever zone they’re in.

So far this season, Vilardi has won only 61 of 135 faceoffs he has taken for a faceoff win percentage of only 45. percent, going against his goal for this season. By comparison, the Kings top-line center, Anze Kopitar, has won 104 of 190 faceoffs – for a faceoff win percentage of 54.7 percent.

It has been suggested that the Kings should put another center on Vilardi’s line with him to take the faceoffs. We recently discussed putting Jeff Carter on Vilardi’s wing. It’s actually a good idea to have a backup faceoff plan in place like that, but it does not change the fact that Vilardi will have to improve this aspect of his game if he wants to remain an NHL center.

The question before us is then, is it time to move Gabe Vilardi to the wing? The verdict is not yet. Remember, this is supposed to a season where the LA Kings find out what they have in their prospects. To assume Gabe Vilardi isn’t a legitimate NHL center after a total of nineteen games in the league would be incredibly shortsighted.

As stated earlier, he needs to work on his faceoffs, but his passing and shooting ability are certainly NHL caliber. With practice, work, and coaching, the faceoff issue can be fixed – the organization and Vilardi owe it to each other to make every effort to make it happen.

Another reason to keep Vilardi at center is that, in all fairness, he really hasn’t been put in a position to succeed yet this season. His linemates and even his own spot in the lineup have been in flux all year so far, and the lack of consistency has had a negative effect on his game. Martin Frk, with whom he has had good chemistry before, has been out all season with a groin injury.

The good news is, Frk will be back very soon, and he could be just what Vilardi needs to get going again offensively. Vilardi has shown he can be a productive center at all levels he has played at, a rash judgment on his NHL future is ill-advised at this time.

The LA Kings have several prospects at center that will soon be pushing for spots in the lineup, and if by the end of the season management decides that Vilardi needs to move to the wing, then so be it.

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He has the skill set that will enable him to be a very effective top-six winger in the NHL, and he should have a long career in the league. If Gabe Vilardi has anything to say about it, however, that career will be spent at center – stay tuned.