2023 Exit Interviews – Gabe Vilardi, Sean Walker, Alexander Edler

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2023 Exit Interviews – Gabe Vilardi, Sean Walker, Alexander Edler

Penultimate day, Insiders!

We have three players who made major moves or rebounds this season for your reading pleasure. The first is Gabe Vilardi, who focused on his development and production this offseason heading into his free agency, of the restricted variety, this offseason. With Shaun Walker, it’s his impressive return from serious injury to return to full fitness as the season progresses. As for Alex Edler, he felt no real effects from his own longer-term injury last season as he surpassed 60 games for the first time since 2018 as he now considers his playing future this offseason.

A look at the final interviews of the season for all three players below.

Gabe Vilardi and Sean Walker

Gabe Vilardi
Great season from forward Gabe Vilardi.

We all know about his journey from training camp to the end of the season. Vilardi entered camp as a probable roster member, but not a lock. He fought his way off any kind of bubble and not just on the roster but on the roster……and not just on the roster but in the Top 9. As Kevin Fiala said during his own interview, Vilardi started scoring and never stops scoring, en route to a career high in goals, leading the team for a stretch of the season.

From there, Vilardi began scoring consistently for the first time in his NHL career.

“I mean, maybe more consistently, I think I’ve had spikes, but I think I’ve kind of put it together more this year. I still feel that individually and as a team we still have a lot to prove. I think it’s just consistency. I think I proved, not this year but before, that I can play and do things. I think this year was the first time I’ve done it on a more consistent basis.”

To produce with Kings, however, it’s about producing within a 200-foot system. Like it or hate it, the Kings are still built on defensive zone play and taking care of their own goal first. Vilardi spent much of last season in the AHL learning the positional switch from center to wing. This summer, he spent a lot of time improving his defensive zone game to become a more reliable player within the system, and he accomplished that by performing in addition to 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 worked on that last summer and improved. With that comes more confidence from the coaches to play for them, I think.

Moving forward into the summer, Vilardi’s main focus is on continuing to round out and build his game.

He has now established himself as an offensive talent and has grown in the defensive end 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, which was how good they were on 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 make. That resonated with him and he hopes to bring that into his own game this summer.

“I think maybe just a board game, downstairs. Watching Leon and Connor, they are so good in the corners and just protecting pucks and I think I have to work on that. I think it would be something easy to work on, but I’m going into the summer with an open mind.”

Sean Walker
Walker’s season started differently than Vilardi’s, but with just as many unknowns.

Walker played in just six games last season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee, requiring surgery that cost him the rest of the season.

“I think when it first happens you question 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 will he really be ready to be Sean Walker? Walker’s biggest asset as a player is his skating ability. That’s why he originally got a contract extension from the Kings, and it’s why Todd McLellan inserted him into the lineup midway through the series against Edmonton. It’s also the area most affected by his injury early last season, which caused him to miss the entire postseason.

As forward Viktor Arvidsson said of his own process and his own recovery, it wasn’t easy, but in the end, Walker got to where he wanted to be.

“Yeah, it’s funny, I was talking to my dad, right from where I was last year to be able to come back and actually play most of the year, it definitely took me a while to feel 100 percent , but I’m really proud to come back from such an injury and finish the year feeling kind of like myself.”

With a strong finish to the season now behind him, Walker admitted he would probably turn down any potential invitation from Team Canada to the World Cup in order to prepare for his wedding this summer. From there, he admitted that 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 Yoonas Korpisalo said in his own exit interview, time will tell.

“Obviously you know the guys coming in, you know where the ceiling is, so we’ll see what happens. I know I can contribute and play here and this is where I want to be, but at the end of the day the organization has to do what they think is best.”

Alexander Edel

When Edler returned from injury a season ago, his recovery timeline was incredibly impressive. Todd McLellan later shared that the player himself sped up the schedule to help the team when a rash of injuries on the blue line resulted in all six opening night defensemen being injured at the same time. Edler returned to action, providing stability and finishing in all seven playoff games against Edmonton.

Entering this season, Edler’s workload was somewhat reduced as he sat half of many, but not all, back-to-backs. More than anything, it was about management and wanting the player to be as fresh as possible over the course of 82 games, as opposed to the inevitable inability to play. Other than the injury, Edler said he hasn’t felt any lingering effects this season.

“I felt good from the injury last year,” he said. “My body felt pretty good all year, nothing really. I had the little thing at the end of the year, but overall the body felt good.

Edler’s major accomplishment this season was reaching the 1,000-game milestone. Edler was celebrated on New Year’s Day for accomplishing the feat, as he became just the sixth Swedish defenseman in NHL history to play in 1,000 games. Although he spent most of that time with the Vancouver Canucks, he was still happy to accomplish the feat in a Kings jersey, with an organization that took care of him and his family, especially around that date.

Looking back, it’s certainly a personal milestone that will stay with him.

“I’m very proud to have reached 1,000 games. I had a lot of injuries during my career so this was a big achievement on a personal level. I’m very happy to have made it here and everything the organization and the guys have done for me in this special moment has been great.”

Moving forward, Edler still isn’t sure what’s next.

He said his body feels good and he believes he would like to continue playing, but as a husband and father, he knows those conversations include his family and what is best overall. He admitted that it might take him a while to make a final decision, so we’ll see where he ends up.

“I’m not sure,” he answered honestly. “The easy answer would be to keep playing until I’m 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 the exit interviews tomorrow with a few younger players, before a comprehensive look at the five biggest questions raised by the interviews as a whole. After that, it’s a little LAKI fraternity before we move on to a season review in a few weeks.

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