In this edition of Los Angeles Kings News & Rumors, I’m going to discuss Gabe Vilardi’s short-term future with the team, the possibility of Quinton Byfield playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, and what the lines might look like with players returning from injury.
Vilardi’s Short-Term Future
Last week I discussed The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman’s comments about Vilardi’s future with the Kings past this season and her assumption that he would not be on the roster to start the 2022-23 season. Recently, we’ve gotten more insight into what might happen with Vilardi now, with him returning from COVID-protocol and looking for a spot in the lineup. Kings’ insider John Hoven discussed Vilardi in his recent episode of Kings of the Podcast, focusing on what to do with him after he returns from protocol, Hoven stated,
“That’s why I think, as tough as it’s going to be to make this decision, I think the decision this week, I’m guessing, I’m assuming, it’s going to be to move Gabe Vilardi (to the AHL).”Kings of the Podcast, John Hoven and Dennis Bernstein
When discussing what to do with the roster when everyone’s healthy, I’ve had people suggest sending Vilardi down to the American Hockey League (AHL), but I didn’t see it happening, nor did I want it to happen. But, after listening to Hoven discuss the topic, it seems like a realistic option. The decision has also grown on me recently — I’m still a huge fan of Vilardi, and have confidence he will find his way in the organization, but a stint back in the AHL does make sense.
I think usage and confidence are the biggest reasons an AHL stint will benefit Vilardi. Realistically, he’s looking at coming back into the lineup on the fourth line, likely playing less than 12 minutes a night. He is not a 12-minute-a-night, fourth-line forward — his playstyle simply doesn’t fit that role. Moving down to the AHL and playing closer to 18 minutes a night in the top six would be more beneficial than playing on the fourth line at this point.
He also looks like a player who has no confidence right now. Body language is another thing with Vilardi that people have brought up a lot recently, and he looks broken right now. I think thrusting him into a second-line role too early last season has damaged his confidence more than anyone’s realized to this point, and a return to putting up big numbers in the AHL, and reuniting him with Martin Frk, could do wonders for him. There is also the bonus that, if the team wants to, you can use this time in the AHL to retrain Vilardi as a full-time winger.
Byfield at the World Juniors is an Option
In the same Kings of the Podcast episode, Hoven dropped a very interesting piece of information regarding Byfield. He said that Byfield playing for Team Canada at this year’s World Junior Championships is now, “on the table,” a complete turnaround from where they were pre-injury. Before the season started, it was clear Byfield playing for Team Canada was not an option, and he was going to stick with the organization all season. His injury has changed this, though, as it could be used as a sort of conditioning stint for him.
I think this would be amazing for Byfield. I think asking him to jump right into the NHL would be too much, so this would be a great opportunity to knock some rust off before joining the Kings. It also gives him the opportunity to play a prominent role on Team Canada. At last year’s World Juniors, he was not quite the dominant force we all hoped he could be. He wasn’t bad by any means, but he didn’t take over games the way many were hoping. A return this year would give him the opportunity to prove how dominant he can be over his peers and boost his confidence before making the jump into the NHL full-time. Of course, a lot can change from now until Team Canada’s preliminary camp, but the prospect of Byfield at the World Junior Championships this year should excite fans.
Kings’ New-Look Lines
With players returning from injury and COVID-protocol, there has been plenty of talk around what the Kings’ lines will look like with everyone back. While we still don’t have any confirmation on what they will look like on Wednesday, we did get a glimpse of what coach Todd McLellan is thinking. All the Kings Men’s Jesse Cohen tweeted the practice groups this Monday morning,
It appears Viktor Arvidsson has not returned to the ice yet, so these groups might change if he comes back before Wednesday. For now, it appears the top six is staying the same, and the bottom six is switching up a bit. Arthur Kaliyev and Carl Grundstrom have seemingly flipped in the lineup, with Vilardi being an option for the fourth line and Lias Andersson an option for the third line. This would be in line with most people’s predictions, as a return to the third line seemed most likely for Andersson. It also falls in line with Hoven’s comments about a possible AHL return for Vilardi — if he’s going to be an extra forward for the Kings, the Ontario Reign is the best option for him at this time.
The really difficult decision will be what to do with the top six when Arvidsson returns? His absence on the top line has been noticeable, so coach McLellan will likely reunite him with Anze Kopitar on the first line. That means, one of Adrian Kempe, Dustin Brown, or Andreas Athanasiou will be relegated to the third line when Arvidsson returns. I’ve said before, I think it should be Brown who moves down, but I’m not confident that move is made. It then comes down to Kempe or Athanasiou. I’ve made no secret of my own preference of Kempe, but it will be interesting to see what McLellan thinks. Of course, if Arvidsson isn’t back by Wednesday, it gives him more time to make this decision, and more games will only help him make the decision of who he prefers in the top six.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.