LOS ANGELES — Apparently, young center Gabe Vilardi has played his way back into the good graces of the Los Angeles Kings coaching staff.
Head coach Todd McLellan indicated that Vilardi will return to the number two center position tonight (March 29), when the Kings skate against the Vegas Golden Knights in Las Vegas.
“That [number] two center is really important,” he said. “Gabe was doing a good job. We moved him to wing for a short period, and he’s back there now, so hopefully, he can provide us the stability [they need from that position].
A couple of days after the Kings dropped two games to the Golden Knights on March 19 and 21 in Los Angeles, McLellan was critical of Vilardi’s performance.
“He needs to play better,” he said. “He’s got to become a factor in the game.”
In the Kings’ last two games, both losses at San Jose on March 22 and 24, McLellan noted that things were looking up a bit for Vilardi.
“I think he’s had two of his better games, the last couple of nights, playing on the wing, winning the [late] face-off, and being involved in the offense,” he said. “He’s still got responsibilities on the power play, he shot the puck more, and got it to the net a lot more in the last two nights since he’s gone to the wing. Let’s let him feel comfortable there and then we’ll move him around, as needed.”
But prior to today’s morning skate, McLellan explained that Vilardi, like any young player, has to meet certain expectations, or he could find himself watching games instead of playing in them.
“Speaking broadly, not just about Gabe, there’s different lengths of rope for everybody,” he noted. “It’s part of being an entry-level player and understanding game management situations. We can talk about it, we can teach it, and we can throw them back [out there game after game], but at some point, there has to be some responsibility it.”
“The older players—[star center Anze] Kopitar is going to get a lot more rope than Gabe is, than [left wing Adrian] Kempe is, or really anybody on our team is,” he added. “That’s just the way it works. He’s earned the right to get that. That doesn’t mean I’m not hard on him. That doesn’t mean that I don’t hold him accountable amongst the group. But he just gets more rope because he’s earned the right to have that rope. There’s a wide range of rope on the team. Not everybody is treated equally. That’s just the way it is. But everybody is treated fairly. That’s the way it has to be.”
One challenge that Vilardi may be facing is fatigue, due to the much more rigorous schedule in the National Hockey League, compared to what he was used to at lower levels—a common problem that young players face.
“It’s different, it’s really different,” he emphasized. “Especially this year, since we’re playing almost every other day. It’s hard, but at the end of the day, it’s what I want to be doing.”
But for his part, Vilardi wasn’t making excuses. In fact, he was focused on what he needed to be better that, indicating that he was aware of his somewhat precarious situation.
“I just have to try to play better,” he said. If I’m not playing well, I’m going to get shifted down the lineup.”
Vilardi also indicated that, contrary to what most seem to be focused on regarding his play, it’s not his offensive play that needs the most work.
“I think it’s all-encompassing,” he noted. “But I think, ultimately, my defensive zone play has to come first. That’s what the coaches have been focusing on with me. If I’m going to play against the other team’s top lines, I’ve got to play well in the defensive zone, That’s the first thing. I’d like to contribute, points-wise, which I haven’t been doing as much as I’d like. But the defensive zone comes first.”
LEAD PHOTO: Forward Gabe Vilardi (right), shown here during practice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California
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