Throughout preseason the most impressive line for the Los Angeles Kings has been the Lias Andersson-Gabe Vilardi-Vladimir Tkachev line. They have pushed the pace of play and created plenty of offense. Boasting two high draft picks and a supremely skilled Russian forward, this line is not what you usually expect from a third line. They should provide some much-needed secondary scoring for a Kings team that had one of the worst offenses in the league last season. Let’s take a look at how the Kings have built this extremely talented third line.
Vilardi & Andersson’s Early Struggles
Both Vilardi and Andersson were high picks in the 2017 NHL draft, 11th, and 9th, respectively, who have yet to live up to their draft spots. Heading into their fifth season post-draft, both players are poised to prove why they were such high picks this season.
Both of these players have faced struggles in their young careers, and for Vilardi, injuries have been the biggest issue. Having missed almost the entire 2018-19 season due to a back injury, he fought his way onto the team’s roster at the end of the 2019-20 season, after an impressive 32 games with the Ontario Reign. 2020-21 was supposed to be his breakout season, but he was clearly not ready for the lofty expectations set on him by fans and management, as he struggled to produce as the team’s second-line center. Fortunately, the addition of Phillip Danault gives Vilardi the perfect opportunity to bounce back in a third-line role, and with lower expectations and better matchups, we should see better production from him.
His improvements have come from hard work, too. Anyone who visited the King’s training facility in El Segundo during development camp would have spotted Vilardi working endlessly with his personal skating coach, and it appears to have paid off. There’s been a noticeable improvement in his skating, particularly his edgework and agility. He also looks to be a more confident player right now, shooting the puck and attacking defenders one-on-one more frequently during the preseason. His size, skill, and vision have always been at a high level — if he has added top-level skating into the mix, the dominant, playmaking center he was in juniors might make an appearance in the NHL.
Andersson faced a different struggle that derailed the early parts of his career. Mismanagement from the New York Rangers saw his development severely stunted and ultimately led to him wanting a trade out of New York. The Kings jumped on this opportunity and traded for Andersson, sending a second-round pick to the Rangers for the young forward. The Kings planned to move him from center to left-wing, sending him to the American Hockey League to learn his new position. In 15 games he showed his skill, posting 17 points and earning himself a call up to the Kings. He struggled early on, but found his feet in the last few games, scoring three points in the final six games and overall impressing fans. There was hope he would build on his end to last season and become a full-time player for the team this season, and it looks like he has done exactly that.
He was drafted as a low-risk, high-reward prospect, who didn’t have the upside some other prospects had, but as a definite top-nine forward. It seems he is now living up to that projection, finding a spot on the King’s third line. He is a tenacious player, who possesses a non-stop motor and can act as the engine for this line. He should fill a similar role to the one Alex Iafallo has played on the team’s first line for the last few seasons, looking to relentlessly hunt down pucks, forcing turnovers before dishing to his linemates. Andersson also loves to pick up scraps in front of the net, a skill that will prove beneficial with Tkachev and Vilardi creating plenty of shooting opportunities. He doesn’t possess the skills you normally see in a top-10 pick but he should be the perfect complement for his linemates.
Tkachev’s North American Return
Throughout preseason I’ve referred to Tkachev as a wild card, as we didn’t know what to expect from him, or if he’d make the roster. With just one preseason game remaining, there’s no question that he has earned his spot on this team. He’s heading into his first NHL season at 26-years-old, after six seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League he’s looking to make a name for himself in North America. Despite an excellent junior career, both in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and on the international stage, he went undrafted due to his lack of size and questions about his 200-foot play. After posting strong numbers in Russia, the King’s are giving him a shot to translate his production into the NHL.
While many fans, including myself, expected it to be top six or bust for him, he’s found a home on this highly skilled third line. He’s showed off immense playmaking ability so far, he’s extremely calm with the puck and can often pick out passes few other players can. He adds a different element to this Kings team, as a smaller high skill forward. His creativity and speed should complement this line perfectly, as he can push the pace on the rush, before setting up Vilardi or Andersson with scoring opportunities. His elite puck skills should provide some much-needed offense for the Kings.
A Highly Skilled Third Line
The Kings have put together a unique and highly skilled third line for the 2021-22 season. With two top-11 picks, and a highly talented winger out of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the team will be hoping for significant offense out of this line. Having not seen this line in a regular-season game, it’s impossible to tell how effective it will be, but the early signs are promising. The Kings are hoping for a postseason return, and the secondary scoring this line provides will be a key factor.
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.