Penultimate day, Insiders!
We have three players who have made significant progress or recoveries this season for your reading pleasure. The first is Gabe Vilardi, who is focused on his development and production this season, heading into his free agency, of the restricted variety, this offseason. Along with Sean Walker, it’s his impressive comeback from serious injury to returning to full fitness as the season progresses. For Alex Edler, he felt no real effects from his own longer-term injury last season as he topped 60 games for the first time since 2018 as he now considers his playing future this offseason.
An overview of the last interviews of the season for the three players below.
Gabe Vilardi and Sean Walker
Excellent season for striker Gabe Vilardi.
We all know his journey from training camp to the end of the season. Vilardi entered the camp as a likely roster member, but not as a lock. He worked his way out of any kind of bubble and not just into the roster but into the roster……and not just into the roster but into the Top 9. As Kevin Fiala said during his own interview, Vilardi started scoring and never stopped scoring, en route to a career goalscoring record, leading the team for much of the season.
On this side, Vilardi started scoring consistently, for the first time in his NHL career.
“I mean, maybe more regularly, I think I’ve had breakouts, but I think I’ve kind of put together better this year. I always feel that individually and as a team we have more to prove. I think it’s just a matter of consistency. I think I had proven, not this year but before, that I could make games and do stuff. I think this year was the first time I did it more consistently.
To produce with the Kings, however, it’s about producing in a 200-foot system. Love it or hate it, the Kings are always built on defensive zone play and tend to their own end first. Vilardi spent much of last season in the AHL learning the shift from center to wing. This summer, he spent a lot of time improving his defensive-zone game to become a more confident player within the system and he’s accomplished that, along with his defensive-zone reliability.
“I think my big thing, earlier in my career, was really just defense, obviously the structure and the way we play, we check our chances and defense is a priority, I feel like I have worked last summer and improved. With that comes more confidence from the coaches to play for them I think.
As summer approaches, Vilardi’s main goal is to continue to complement and build his game.
He’s established himself as an offensive talent now, and he’s grown in the defensive realm of his game. An interesting closing note was that he took something specific away from playing against Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid in the playoffs, at know how good they were along the boards and in the corners. Both Vilardi and Draisaitl are bigger players who aren’t elite skaters, so that’s a comparison he can draw. It resonated with him and he hopes to incorporate that into his own game over the summer.
“I think maybe just a board game, downstairs. Looking at Leon and Connor, they’re so good in the corners and just protecting the pucks and I think I need to work on that. I think it would be something easy to work on, but I approach the summer with an open mind.
Walker’s season started differently than Vilardi’s, but with just as many unknowns.
Walker played just six games last season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee, which required surgery that cost him the rest of his life. season.
“I think when it first happened you wonder if you can play again, so to be able to come back and play, I’m very proud of that.”
We knew Sean Walker would be ready on day 1 of training camp, but would he really be ready to be Sean Walker? Walker’s greatest asset as a player is his skating ability. That’s why he first got a contract extension from the Kings and that’s why Todd McLellan put him in the roster midway through the series against Edmonton. It is also the area most affected by his injury at the start of last season, the one that caused him to miss the entire playoffs.
As striker Viktor Arvidsson said of his own process and his own recovery, it wasn’t easy, but ultimately Walker got to where he wanted to be.
“Yeah, it’s funny, I was talking with my dad, just about where I was last year, to be able to come back and play a majority of the year, it definitely took me a while to feel 100% but I’m really proud to come back after an injury like that and to end the year feeling a bit like myself.
With a strong end to the season now behind him, Walker admitted he would likely decline any potential invitation from Team Canada to the world championships in preparation for his wedding this summer. From there, he admitted the future was unknown.
Walker is a dynamic right-handed defenseman, who happens to be the deepest part of the Kings’ prospect pool. He believes he can contribute here and wants to be here long term, but as goalkeeper Joonas Korpisalo said in his own exit interview, time will tell.
“Obviously you know the guys coming in, you know where the cap is at, so we’ll see what happens. I know I can contribute and play here and that’s where I want to be, but in the end Ultimately, the organization should do what it thinks is best.
When Edler returned from injury a season ago, his recovery schedule was incredibly impressive. Todd McLellan later shared that it was the player himself who was speeding up the timeline to help the team when a series of injuries on the blue line saw all six opening night defenders injured at once. Edler returned to action, provided stability and ended up playing in all seven playoff games against Edmonton.
Heading into this season, Edler’s workload has been reduced a bit, as he has sat halfway through many, but not all, back-to-back. More than anything, it was about management and wanting the player to be as fresh as possible throughout 82 games, as opposed to necessarily being unable to play. Apart from the injury, Edler said he hasn’t felt any residual effects this season.
“I felt good after the injury last year,” he said. “My body felt pretty good all year, not really anything. I got the little thing at the end of the year, but overall the body felt good.
Edler’s banner this season reached the milestone of 1,000 games. Edler was celebrated on New Year’s Day for achieving this feat, as he became the sixth Swedish defenseman in NHL history to play 1,000 games. Although he spent most of that time with the Vancouver Canucks, he was still happy to achieve the feat in a Kings jersey, with an organization that took care of him and his family, especially towards this date.
Looking back, it’s certainly a personal milestone that will stick with him.
“I’m very proud to have reached 1,000 games. Throughout my career I’ve had a lot of injuries, so it was a big personal achievement. I’m very happy to have made it here and everything. what the organization and the guys did for me, around this special moment, it was awesome.
Moving forward, Edler doesn’t yet know what’s next.
He said his body feels good and he thinks he’d like to keep playing, but as a husband and father, he knows those conversations also include his family and what’s best overall. He admitted it might take a bit of time to make a final decision, so we’ll see where he ultimately lands.
“I’m not sure,” he replied honestly. “The easy answer would be to keep playing until you’re 45 or something, but there are a lot of factors now, with getting a new contract, seeing how the body feels and talking to my family. . We will see.”
We’ll wrap up exit interviews with a few young players tomorrow, before a general overview of the top five questions raised in the interviews as a whole. Then it’s a bit of a sibling on LAKI, before going over the seasons in a few weeks.