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Vilardi making fast impression on Kings

Forward prospect shows promise after missing camps last year because of injury

by Dan Greenspan / NHL.com Correspondent

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Gabriel Vilardi has been making up for lost time. If that continues, the Los Angeles Kings forward prospect could make his NHL debut this season.

The 18-year-old, who missed the first 3 1/2 months last season in the Ontario Hockey League because of an offseason back injury, showed off advanced playmaking skills during Kings development camp last month. Los Angeles is eagerly anticipating what he can do for an encore at training camp, with a need for increased scoring from its bottom-six forwards.

 

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"Gabe, he's got a big presence out there," said Mike O'Connell, a longtime NHL coach and executive who is a special adviser to Kings general manager Rob Blake.

"He sees the ice really well. He finds his teammates. He's going to be a tough guy to stop. He still has work to do, as most players do when they first start, but it looks good. It's a good foundation. I think he should fit right in."

Vilardi, selected by Los Angeles at No. 11 in the 2017 NHL Draft, made his season debut for Kingston Jan. 5, four days after being traded from Windsor, and had 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists) in 32 games. He had 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 16 playoff games before impressing at development camp, his first appearance in a team setting with the Kings.

He missed development camp, rookie camp and training camp in 2017 because of the injury.

"I didn't get to train last summer with the guys here, and this is the first time where I've done training at this kind of level," said Vilardi, who will turn 19 on Aug. 16. "I know what I need to work on this summer, and I'm trying to work on those things right now.

"It's good [to] just kind of see where you're at with your peers. I mean, I haven't played a game in three months and most of the guys haven't either, so it's good to kind of get your legs going again. … You learn so much from the player development guys. They have so many experienced NHLers and so many good players and whatnot, so they know what you can do to get better and to improve your game."

Video: Kings draft F Gabriel Vilardi No. 11

Vilardi's performance at development camp was not a surprise to forward prospect Akil Thomas, who was selected in the second round (No. 51) of the 2018 NHL Draft and played against Vilardi in the OHL with Niagara.

"We played their team a lot in the second half [of the season] and he filled our net," Thomas said. "[He's] really hard to play against because he's kind of a threat every time he touches the puck, and [he] scored some really nice goals against us."

Kings coach John Stevens said he wants to see Vilardi continue to improve, pointing to forward Alex Iafallo, who went from surprising camp standout last summer to scoring 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 75 games as an NHL rookie last season.

The impression Vilardi has left bodes well for him and Los Angeles.

"He's becoming a man quickly," Stevens said.

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