Bounce Back Candidate No. 1: Gabe Vilardi
It’s hard to imagine a 21-year-old rookie looking to have a “bounce back” season, but hear me out.
Expectations were high for Gabe Vilardi coming into the 2021 season. He put up three goals and four assists in the first 10 games of his NHL career at the end of the 2019-20 season. The future was looking very bright for the LA Kings 2017 first-round draft pick.
Finally fully healthy after overcoming the back problems that had plagued him since his draft year, Vilardi started the 2021 season as the Kings’ second-line center. Things did not go as smoothly this season as last season, however, and Vilardi struggled for the most part. Some critics said he did not shoot the puck enough, others pointed to his struggles at the faceoff dot, but perhaps Vilardi’s biggest critic was Kings head coach Todd McLellan.
On multiple occasions, the coach, either directly or indirectly, made it known that he was not pleased with the youngster’s play. McLellan would go so far as to healthy scratch Vilardi for two games, perhaps as a motivational tool, “tough love,” or even a chance for a mental reset for the young center.
Despite this season’s struggles, Gabe Vilardi’s talent is undeniable. He actually finished the season strong, posting three goals and two assists in his final six games. LA Kings management could help unlock his potential by acquiring a legitimate goal-scorer to pair Vilardi with to complement his extraordinary passing ability.
During next season’s training camp, Vilardi will compete with the likes of Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, Rasmus Kupari, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, and Akil Thomas, among others, for the three remaining center spots after Anze Kopitar.
Expect Gabe Vilardi to learn from this season’s struggles and have a much better 2021-22.