With his first full season under his belt, Gabe Vilardi prepares for his sophomore campaign hoping to rebound with the LA Kings.
When he was first called up in early 2020, it appeared as if Gabe Vilardi was going to do wonders with the LA Kings. He did, after all, score his first-career goal on his first-career shift in the NHL, so the youngster’s start could not have been more auspicious. So, while skepticism ran high when the 2019-20 season was abruptly suspended — and ultimately cancelled — the LA Kings at least knew that had a silver lining with Vilardi, who registered three goals in four assists in 10 games in early 2020.
Then came the abbreviated — not to mention long-anticipated — 2020-21 season.
While he wasn’t terrible by any means, Vilardi’s game fell off a bit in 2020-21. In 54 games for the silver-and-black, the centerman scored 10 goals and added 13 assists. Beyond that, there was a change in the youngster’s attitude along the way, seeming fed up or frustrated at times. Now, with Quinton Byfield set to crack the big club’s roster in addition to the offseason signing of Phillip Danault, the depth at center has become deeper, leaving Vilardi to either compete for a spot on the fourth line or being willing to adapt as a winger. Nevertheless, the Kingston, Ont., native arrived at Kings training camp in high spirits, which was evident when he spoke with the media following Day 3 of camp on Saturday.
“It’s gone pretty good so far, I think,” Vilardi beamed. “A little more of a tiring day, three-on-three, so it was pretty good.”
From the offseason acquisitions to more of the prospect pool ready to make the jump to the NHL, the Kings will be one of the more fascinating teams to watch this coming season with training camp posing as an ideal preface.
“There’s a lot of skill,” Vilardi observed. “There’s a lot of these guys coming in here looking pretty good. Obviously, they just came back from that rookie showcase and got to play some games, which is good for them. But yeah, if you guys are watching, it’s pretty fast out there. A little bit hectic at times but good.”
As for battling for a roster spot, Vilardi is doing just that, although he is admittedly more internally focused.
“I’m just trying to get ready for the season in any way I can and just keep working on my game,” he said. “I don’t know. Just not really thinking [about others’ chances of making the Kings].”
As he continues to work on his game, Vilardi shared the most notable areas he is focusing on as a means for improvement.
“I want to be good in the D-zone,” noted the 22-year-old. “I thought the last two scrimmages before today, I was pretty good; and today, I was kind of puck-watching, I thought. I want to be fast in transition — I felt I’ve gotten a little better at that — just kind of getting right into it and proving my speed. [Also] working on the system stuff that we’ve done, that we’ve touched on the last few practices here. I think my game is down low, really, and just trying to create space for my linemates, kind of make plays in tight areas.”
As for the depth jam, if you will, at center, the former Windsor Spitfire was asked how he felt about the free-agent signing of the aforementioned Phillip Danault.
“I felt fine,” a succinct Vilardi responded. “He’s a great player, he’s on our team and good for me, I can watch him.”
With so much talk about Danault and Byfield coming in and making their respective marks, less has been said about Gabe Vilardi. Perhaps more was expected of the latter last season but to a man, as long as he is donning the silver-and-black, Vilardi will do whatever is in his power to make his own mark — and a plethora of noise along the way if necessary.
How 2021-22 will begin for the former Kingston Frontenac remains to be seen, of course, but regardless, do expect Gabe Vilardi to establish himself as more of a dark horse with the Kings moving forward. After all, some of the best thrive in the face of adversity, so let’s see what Vilardi is capable of.