LA Kings: Gabe Vilardi Taking Recent Struggles in Stride

LA Kings (Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)
LA Kings (Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports) /

Gabe Vilardi has experienced some difficulties as of late, but he is ready for the challenge and ready to help the LA Kings right the ship.

In the risk of sounding obvious, growing pains, while inevitable, can be nonetheless frustrating. This is the case for LA Kings forward Gabe Vilardi who, despite a good start to the season, has dealt with his share of struggles in recent weeks.

While their two-game stint in San Jose last week was one to forget overall, it wasn’t all bad for the LA Kings. For Vilardi, specifically, he notched assists in both games after going on a five-game pointless streak. Additionally, the Kingston, ON, native was exceptional in the faceoff circle, finishing each contest with an 83.3% faceoff percentage — this following an average of just under 41% in his previous 11 outings.

Of course, while things may be looking up for Vilardi, the 21-year-old needs to remain consistent if he hopes to earn more ice time and move back up in the lineup.

Following practice on Saturday, Vilardi spoke with the media about his recent struggles, specifically in the defensive zone.

“Ultimately, my D zone’s got to come first,” a matter-of-fact Vilardi said. “That’s something that the coaches have been focusing on me with, I guess. So, if I’m not playing good in the D zone, then, obviously, I’m not– if I’m going to play against other team’s top lines, I got to play good in the D-zone. So, I think that’s the first thing. I would like to contribute points-wise, which I haven’t been doing as much as I’d like, obviously, but I think ultimately the D-zone comes first.”

While his average of 15:00 of ice time this season remains decent, Vilardi has seen his minutes decline in recent weeks. En route to the LA Kings’ St. Patrick’s Day win against St. Louis, the youngster’s ice time dropped from 16:47 the previous game to 13:01 on March 17. Following that, the former Kingston Frontenac logged just under 10 minutes in each of the LA Kings’ home games vs. Vegas — his lowest totals of the season — and despite better numbers in San Jose, only had a slight increase in ice time with 12:50 and 11:42, respectively. Over this stretch, though, Vilardi has also transitioned away from his usual position from center to the wing — an area which has taken time for the rookie to get used to.

“I played wing my draft year,” Vilardi noted. “Other than that, I kind of played center all the way growing up. Just different D-zone responsibilities. I’d say a little bit less work but I think a little bit less, like, grinding down low and I don’t want to say less responsibility but I feel like it is a little less responsibility, honestly so. At the end of the day, I just want to play. It doesn’t matter where I’m playing. So, I mean, it was fine.”

As for who his favorite linemates have been, Vilardi went the diplomatic route.

“Not going to say who I like playing with the most,” the rookie chuckled. “I mean, this is the NHL. Everyone could play hockey at a pretty elite level and can think the game. That’s just how they think the game is and where they’re going, kind of thing, that’s a little different.

“Everyone brings different skill sets, I guess, and thinking of the game differently.”

These growing pains come for anyone adjusting to the NHL level. Gabe Vilardi, though, celebrated a strong start to his NHL career and has only come to experience these setbacks as of late. So, while this may be a tougher spot for the rookie, Vilardi nonetheless knows what he needs to do to get better.

Regardless of how this season finishes for the LA Kings, Gabe Vilardi is one of the centerpieces for the team’s bright future. So, a better overall performance from the silver-and-black’s new No. 13 will be beneficial for both the individual and the team.

The next test for Vilardi and the LA Kings comes on Monday night when they begin a two-game series in Nevada against the high-powered Vegas Golden Knights.