Kings News & Rumors: Byfield, COVID, & Vilardi

Column, COVID-19, Gabe Vilardi, Los Angeles Kings, News & Rumors, Quinton Byfield

In this edition of Los Angeles Kings News & Rumors, I’ll be discussing star prospect Quinton Byfield’s return to off-ice training. I’ll also be discussing the COVID situation in Ottawa ahead of the team’s game, and question marks around Gabe Vilardi’s future in the organization.

Byfield Making Progress

On Wednesday, it was revealed that Kings star prospect Byfield had begun off-ice training for the first time since he fractured his ankle on Oct. 5. Hockey Royalties Russel Morgan tweeted out,

Quinton Byfield has begun off-ice training on his road to recovery from an ankle fracture suffered in the preseason.

Soon after, the Kings posted a video of Byfield on an exercise bike on their Instagram page. This is a great sign for the team and Byfield, as it appears his recovery is on schedule. There’s still no official timetable for his recovery, but his return to off-ice training means he’s getting closer to a return. Hopefully, he can return within about a month, coming back sometime in December.

Quinton Byfield LA Kings
Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him assigned to the American Hockey League (AHL) after he returns, but I wouldn’t expect him to spend much time there. It would be more of a conditioning stint than anything. The Kings are red hot right now, so finding a spot for Byfield wouldn’t be easy, but things can drastically change in a month, and his return could be huge for the team.

COVID in Ottawa

There were question marks about the Kings Thursday game against the Ottawa Senators, with several Senators players now in COVID-19 protocol. Forward Alex Formenton and goaltender Matt Murray were both placed in COVID protocol Thursday morning, bringing the team’s total number to eight players. TSN’s Darren Dreger confirmed that the league planned on going ahead with the Kings vs Senators game Thursday, despite the high number of COVID cases.

Awaiting test results in Ottawa. At the moment, the plan is to move forward with the Kings/Sens game tonight. The chief medical officers from both the NHL and the NHLPA are in contact and monitoring the Senators CoVid situation.

The Kings will now have a chance to continue their red-hot form against a weakened Senators team. But I’m a little worried that we might see some Kings players enter COVID protocol after Thursday’s game. Both Viktor Arvidsson and Gabe Vilardi are already in COVID protocol, entering it after facing the Montreal Canadiens, who had recently played the COVID stricken San Jose Sharks. Of course, it’s entirely possible the Kings don’t see any cases after their game Thursday, but the last thing this team needs is more players out of the lineup.

Questions Surrounding Vilardi’s Future

Former 11th overall pick Vilardi has had a tough 2021, last season was supposed to be a breakout year for him, taking on the second-line center role. Unfortunately, that didn’t go as planned and he struggled through much of the season. Expectations were readjusted for this season, and he was expected to take on a third-line center role, with new signing Phillip Danault taking on the second-line center role, ideally taking pressure off Vilardi.

Gabriel Vilardi LA Kings
Gabriel Vilardi, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

Things looked promising in preseason, as Vilardi was arguably the team’s best performer, this didn’t last though as he struggled through the early part of the season. After just one point through seven games, he was scratched against the Canadiens, a game where the Kings snapped their six-game losing streak, he was then placed in COVID protocol and has yet to return.

The Kings have been on fire since he was removed from the lineup, something I think is mostly coincidental, but it can’t be good for the young center’s confidence. We don’t know when he will be activated off the COVID list, but there are certainly questions about where, and if, he fits into the lineup when healthy. There have also been some questions about Vilardi’s long-term future with the organization recently, in a recent mailbag article, The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman had a few questions on this exact topic. She was asked if she thought Vilardi would be on the roster next season and her response was,

“And no, I don’t see Vilardi being on next year’s roster. As you noted, Kupari and Kaliyev seem readier to contribute at the NHL level. If they continue their development, they could be in the NHL to stay.”

From (The Kings and the trade market, Alex Iafallo’s role, Gabe Vilardi’s progress and one last Jack Eichel Question: Mailbag) Lisa Dillman, The Athletic

Dillman is a fantastic and well-respected reporter, so I can’t imagine she would make such a claim without some real confidence in its truth. While I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion Vilardi won’t be on next year’s roster, it now seems possible. I would hate to see this, as I still have faith in Vilardi to reach his potential, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that other prospects have outplayed him so far, specifically Rasmus Kupari. She also mentions the logjam at center creating an issue for Vilardi’s future. While I agree the logjam makes his future at center almost non-existent, I think moving him to wing is a better option than trading him.

Related: Kings Kempe & Vilardi Look Set For Career Seasons

I’ve said for a while now that I want him to be given a chance on Kupari’s wing when he returns to play, and I hope he’s given that chance. Vilardi is an immensely talented player who can be a huge piece to this team’s future success. Of course, it’s up to Vilardi to prove he deserves a spot in this lineup, as talent and potential alone aren’t enough. But at barely 22-years old, I’d hate to see the organization move on from such a talented prospect.

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