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On Thursday, the Los Angeles Kings called up center prospect Gabriel Vilardi from the AHL’s Ontario Reign. In his first game with the Kings, against the Florida Panthers, Vilardi recorded his first NHL goal on his very first shift. Vilardi had picked up the puck from defenseman Kurtis MacDermid at the blue line and fired a wrist shot for a goal just outside the perimeter. In the video clip below, you can check out Vilardi’s first career NHL goal.
Unfortunately, the road to the NHL has been a tough one for the former first-round draft selection from Kingston, Ontario. Throughout his time in the OHL, Vilardi had dealt with back spasms and chronic back pain. There were rumors back in the summer before the 2018-2019 regular season that Vilardi could make the Kings roster out of training camp. But, his back pain came back. Vilardi was on the shelf for most of the season, but he did manage to suit up in four games for the Ontario Reign. In four games, he mustered up just one assist.
This season, Vilardi has struck back and proved to the Kings fan base that he still be a robust playmaker and a strong power forward. In 32 games played with the Reign this season, Vilardi has totaled nine goals and 16 assists. As a result, he owns a 48.5 PNHLe. If you are unaware of what PNHLe is, it is a stat that projects a prospect’s point potential based on his performance. PNHLe takes into account the league that the prospect plays in and determines the NHL projected point totals based on how challenging the competition is.
If you compare Vilardi’s PNHLe to some of the other center prospects in the Kings farm system, you will quickly see that prospects such as Tyler Madden (Northeastern University) and Akil Thomas (Peterborough Petes) have a higher offensive upside, but the ceiling is quite high for Vilardi.
The other day, I spoke with Jesse Cohen, the Creator, and Host of the official Los Angeles Kings podcast, All The Kings Men about Vilardi and his first career NHL goal.
“Well, the goal was obviously theatrical. It was 10 seconds or maybe less than 10 seconds into his first shift and the game barely began,” Cohen said. “Then you know there’s been all of this anticipation. There was a lot of pressure building up to see him play and he finally does. Instantly, right away, he scores his first goal. So that was great. That was pure entertainment.”
But, Vilardi’s night was only beginning. Throughout the rest of the game against the Panthers, he pursued the puck well in the offensive zone and was heavy on the forecheck. In addition, Vilardi had a number of zone entries and helped drive the rush. He also had recorded an assist in the second period of play.
In the video below, you can see Vilardi deliver a swing pass from behind the Florida net to teammate Martin Frk. Frk collects the puck and scores a wrist shot goal.
While Vilardi had a strong showing against the Panthers, it is far from a given that he will remain in the NHL for the rest of the season. In my conversation with Cohen, he talked about how long Vilardi would stay with the club.
“The Kings have a lot of young players on the Reign that I think would be well served by having a playoff appearance. Think they’re currently in fourth place, but it’s very shaky. They can swap places with 5th place to find themselves out of the playoffs. They already have Martin Frk on the Kings. If Vilardi and Frk finish the season in L.A., that’s a pretty significant blow to Ontario and their hopes of entering in the playoffs,” Cohen stated. “So, my guess would be a short term, but if he keeps scoring, it will give them a reason not to send him back down. I suppose it’s within the realm of possibility that he never plays another game in the AHL.”
As Cohen mentioned the Reign are on the verge of a long playoff run and they could benefit from having Vilardi back in the lineup. In addition, the Kings are not in the playoff hunt and are looking to secure a high lottery pick. With that being said, it might be wise to send Vilardi back down to the AHL at some point soon. Even though another AHL stint could be coming up, it is very intriguing to see Vilardi find success in the NHL, especially given his health issues that have popped up over the last couple of years.