LA Kings: Coach Gallant speaks highly of Gabe Vilardi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan

LA Kings (Photo by EyesWideOpen/Getty Images)
LA Kings (Photo by EyesWideOpen/Getty Images) /

Gabe Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan are two of three LA Kings playing for Team Canada. Their coach spoke highly of both after Wednesday’s win.

A pair of 21-year-olds, Gabe Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan couldn’t have had more polar opposites finishes to the 2021 season with the LA Kings. Vilardi closed out the year by tallying five points in the final six games. Anderson-Dolan had just one point in the final six contests — a goal in the Coyotes series finale.

The latter was inserted into the lineup in early February after Blake Lizotte was placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol list, and he took full advantage, scoring five points in his first seven games. Beyond that, though, the former second-round pick was pretty sporadic in the scoring department.

LA Kings IIHF Gabe VIlardi
LA Kings (Photo by GINTS IVUSKANS/AFP via Getty Images) /

Vilardi, meanwhile, tallied three goals in his first six games before going through a rough stretch of the season. He was benched, dropped in the lineup, moved to the wing before finding “it” on a line with Alex Iafallo and Lias Andersson in the final handful of games.

Both players were invited to represent Team Canada in the IIHF World Championships in Riga, Latvia. And in what has been an odd tournament, Canada was winless heading into Wednesday’s must-win game against Norway.

Vilardi recorded a team-high 7:43 TOI in the first period among Canadian skaters and registered a shot on goal. He has yet to record a point in the tournament, but as noted, it’s been tough sledding for Team Canada as a group. Still, that didn’t prevent Vilardi’s head coach from singing his praises when I asked him for an assessment of the Kingston, Ontario, native.

“I think Gabe’s a talented, young hockey player,” Team Canada head coach Gerad Gallant said following Wednesday’s 4-2 win. “He’s just got to keep driving to the net, and he’s playing well for us. We played four games. Our record is 1-3, but we played a lot better than that. So, we haven’t had any puck luck, and Gabe’s one of those guys that hasn’t had any puck luck. But overall, I think he’s playing really well. He’s taken another step, and he’s a good-looking hockey player.”

Vilardi registered a shot on goal in the first period and was called for hooking just 2:43 into the final frame on Wednesday. The former 11th overall pick in 2017 has won 60 percent of his faceoffs through the first four games and has averaged 15:07 TOI.

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His LA Kings teammate in Anderson-Dolan has been centering Team Canada’s fourth line, but the Calgary, Alberta, native, has looked more comfortable with each passing game.

JAD has won 55 percent of his faceoffs but made remarkable improvements in the last two games, winning 80 percent of all draws, including all six on Wednesday.

While he’s averaged just 11:28 TOI, JAD is getting valuable experience playing against some of the best hockey players in the world.

When I asked Coach Gallant what he’s seen from JAD through the first four games, Team Canada’s head coach did not hesitate to compliment the 21-year-old.

“Competitive kid. Skates well. He works hard,” Gallant said of Anderson-Dolan through four games. “He’s playing a little bit more of a defensive role for the club, and he’s doing a good job of it. I didn’t know much about the kid. But again, he’s a young player who’s taking this step. He’s playing against good players every night, and we’re happy with him.”

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Team Canada has another must-win game on Friday against a highly competitive Kazakhstan team, who just defeated the first place German team on Wednesday by a 3-2 score.