Gabe Vilardi had a tough time with the Kings to open the year, but during his stint with the Reign, he looks to have found his footing.
The LA Kings’ opening night roster centerman depth was Kopitar-Danault-Vilardi-Lizotte. Many believed this group would remain intact at least until Quinton Byfield recovered from injury. But, Gabe Vilardi struggled to open the season, tallying just one goal in seven games and recording a -5 rating. As a result, Rasmus Kupari overtook Vilardi’s role as third-line centerman with his strong play earlier this year.
After his slow start to the season, Kings’ management sent Vilardi down to the Ontario Reign to regain his confidence. This also opened up the possibility of transferring him to the wing. The Kings have an abundance of prospects who play center, so it was only a matter of time before they needed to move someone to the wing. And that someone, based on his experience and success this year in the AHL, has to be Gabe Vilardi.
In his time with the Reign, Vilardi has posted eight goals and 12 assists in just 20 games played, and he looks most dangerous on the powerplay, where half of his goals have come from. His shooting percentage is also at an incredibly high number at 17.3%.
— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) January 26, 2022
The LA Kings’ most telling weaknesses are their special teams’ numbers and their overall lack of ability to finish. The Kings’ powerplay sits at 15.95%, which is almost five points lower than the NHL average (20.5%), and their shooting percentage sits at a bleak 7.8 percent (league average is 9.6%). Vilardi would help substantially with both of those categories.
Having Vilardi in the lineup for his scoring ability and success on the powerplay is reason enough for him to be called up.
But the question remains: What line would he fit on at 5 on 5?
The third line seems logical, given how often different combinations have been tried there without consistent success.
After Rasmus Kupari’s game started to fade as the season progressed, the Kings decided to call up Quinton Byfield, and he has occupied the third line center role for a few games now. And it looks like he will be there to stay from here on out.
A Vilardi-Byfield-Brown or a Vilardi-Byfield-Grundstrom third line seems like it would be a perfect combination of size, skill, speed, and grit. Vilardi also played alongside Byfield this year in Ontario before Byfield was eventually called-up, so the top prospects have already established some chemistry.
The time is now for Vilardi to prove to the organization that he belongs in the NHL for good, but the Kings need to provide him with that opportunity.