LA Kings vs. Wild: It’s time for Gabe Vilardi to show up

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

Gabe Vilardi’s first full season with the LA Kings hasn’t gone as planned, but he can have a strong finish to the year, starting with the Minnesota Wild.

Enormous expectations have been placed on Gabe Vilardi this season. After coming up for the final ten games of the 2020 regular season, the LA Kings former 11th overall pick in 2017 accumulated three goals and four assists over that span.

Things couldn’t have gone more differently for Vilardi this season, as most just assumed he would pick up where left off.

“He came up last year, and he scored a lot of points,” Kings head coach Todd McLellan said on Thursday. “So we all thought he was a 70-point guy and going to be the Rookie of the Year. That would have been great, but that’s not the case. He’s developing at his own pace and his own steady progress.”

In and out of McLellan’s doghouse this season, Vilardi was demoted to the team’s fourth line and the wing, away from his natural slot at the 2C. The 21-year-old has six goals and nine assists in 41 games this season.

On Friday, the Kings will wrap up their season series with the Minnesota Wild, a team that Vilardi has had success against this year, a goal and three points in seven games. Vilardi’s first goal of the 2021 season came against the Wild, but he’s gone the last twenty [games] without lighting the lamp.

The Wild have been one of the surprise teams in the West Division this season. Assuming they don’t collapse over the next three weeks, they should make the postseason for the eighth time in the last nine seasons. The Kings are fighting for a playoff spot, five points back of the Coyotes for the fourth and final spot in the division.

The Kings have struggled to get consistent secondary scoring all year long. They have the best goal differential (-10) in the division aside from the top three teams, meaning they’ve been playing in a lot of close games.

Vilardi is one of those players that needs to start producing.

“Faceoffs are getting better. His details and awareness defensively is getting better,” McLellan added. “I think his stamina has improved. He’s needed a bit of a rest or a breather physically. So I think his recovery has been better. There’s still a lot to work on.”

With Quinton Byfield joining the Kings roster for a brief look within the next week, Vilardi should start feeling some pressure, especially with how deep the Kings are at the center position. The Kingston, Ontario native can get off on the right foot with a strong game against the Wild on Friday.

And a quick look ahead. The Kings will host the Coyotes on Saturday; another team Vilardi has played well against this season. So essentially, these next two games are important for both the team and Gabe Vilardi.