As the Los Angeles Kings work to integrate prospects into their lineup as part of the rebuild, one key player who made his debut last season was forward Gabriel Vilardi, who was selected 11th overall by the Kings in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Vilardi spent the majority of the 2019-20 season with Ontario in the AHL, where he scored nine goals and 25 points in 32 games, a pace of 23 goals and 64 points per 82 games, at just 20 years old. He was also called up near the end of the season and had a strong showing with the Kings, scoring three goals and seven points in 10 NHL games. He did this despite averaging under 13 minutes per game in his NHL stint and also managed to win 53.3 per cent of faceoffs.
While his talent and potential have never been in question, the issue that’s surrounded Vilardi has been his injury trouble. He’s missed time with a recurring back injury over the last few seasons and even missed almost the entire 2018-19 season due to the injury. However, at this point he seems to be healthy and hopefully, Vilardi will finally be able to play a full season this year.
As a result, Vilardi could get a great opportunity with the Kings and there’s a chance we could see him start the year as the Kings’ second-line center, behind Anze Kopitar. With Alex Iafallo and Dustin Brown as likely members of the first line, Jeff Carter could move down to play wing on the third line and Vilardi could be paired with Adrian Kempe and Martin Frk as a result.
Slotting in as the team's second-line center would give Vilardi the chance to play with quality linemates, while allowing Anze Kopitar to face the tougher competition. Given that we saw how well Vilardi adjusted to the AHL, it certainly seems as though he could be ready to take another step in his development and make the jump to the NHL on a permanent basis.
Considering Vilardi ended the year with the Kings, it’s highly likely we see him spend the season back in the NHL. Whether or not he’d be ready to start the year as the team’s full-time second-line center remains to be seen but at the very least, he’d certainly have the opportunity to earn that role as the season goes on.
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Here’s today’s poll question (results and discussion will be posted in a future article):
Where will Gabriel Vilardi start the 2020-21 season?