LA Kings: Gabe Vilardi latest player to be called out

Gabe Vilardi was called out by head coach Todd McLellan following the LA Kings loss to Vegas on Friday night. What’s next for Vilardi?

With 4:50 remaining in the second period in the LA Kings and Vegas Golden Knights game on Friday night, Gabe Vilardi was set to take the faceoff in his own zone. The 21-year-old lost the faceoff, Vegas controlled the puck, setting up a blast from the point from Jonathan Marchessault, with William Karlsson deflecting the puck past Jonathan Quick.

The goal gave Vegas a 3-2 lead, en route to their 4-2 victory and extending their lead in the West Division. But the bigger story was what transpired with Vilardi and Kings head coach Todd McLellan. The latter benched the former 11th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Vilardi was clearly out of position on Karlsson’s goal and won just 37.5 percent of faceoffs.

“He needs to play better. He’s got to become a factor in the game,” McLellan said of his rookie center in the postgame Zoom call.

After the magical end to the 19-20 season, in which Vilardi scored his first NHL goal on his first shift, stretching out to seven points in ten NHL games, the 21-year-old has had mixed reviews this season.

He scored goals in three of the first six games, then went several games without making the scoresheet before tallying three more goals in another six-game span. But over the last eight games, Vilardi has been fairly quiet, registering just two assists. On the season, the Kingston, Ontario native has six goals and six assists in 29 games while centering the LA Kings’ second line.

Vilardi hasn’t been able to play with AHL linemate in Martin Frk, as was originally projected, with the latter injured for all but 9:21 of the 2021 season.

On Friday, Vilardi logged a season-low 9:43 TOI and has seen his playing time decreased over the past two games. At this point in the season, Todd McLellan is clearly expecting more from his young rookie.

“I just don’t talk about Gabe,” McLellan explained, following Saturday’s morning skate. “There’s different lengths of rope for everybody. It’s part of being an entry-level player and understanding game management situations. We can talk about it, and we can teach it, and we can throw them back out game and game and game again. But at some point, there has to be some responsibility for it.”

Vilardi is the third player — or group of players — to be challenged publicly by McLellan in postgame Zoom calls. Blake Lizotte‘s entire line was asked to step up their game early on in the season, Adrian Kempe was recently challenged to produce more, and now Vilardi. Regarding the first two, both responded well, with Kempe ripping off five goals in two games against Anaheim.

With the LA Kings and Vegas set to wrap up their two-game set on Sunday afternoon, it will be very interesting to see how Gabe Vilardi responds.