Gabriel Vilardi won’t play for the Kings this season.
His precarious injury situation already made him doubtful, but it became clear Wednesday when general manager Rob Blake said that Vilardi will return to his junior team. As an underage player, Vilardi, 19, isn’t eligible to play for the Kings this season once that move is made.
Blake said that Vilardi needs “time to heal up.” That further cuts into the window the Kings would have to give Vilardi a potential nine-game stint in the NHL before returning him to junior hockey.
It is another big blow for a playmaking winger thought to be the Kings’ top forward prospect. Vilardi, who has a history of back problems, was not able to participate in Canada’s training camp for the upcoming World Junior Championships. Prior to that, he played the first four games of a conditioning assignment with the Ontario Reign but could not play the fifth and final game.
Vilardi has struggled to stay healthy since the Kings chose him with the 11th pick in the 2017 draft. He played for the Kingston Frontenacs last spring and had 22 points in 16 playoff games but has suffered setbacks since then.
Ilya Kovalchuk has been cleared to play and will likely resume his season Saturday, interim coach Willie Desjardins said.
“He’s good to go, so I think you would see him in the next game,” Desjardins said.
Kovalchuk underwent a bursectomy for an inflamed bursa in his ankle on Dec. 2 and was expected to miss four weeks. But he skated for several days and no longer wore a no-contact jersey Wednesday.
Desjardins also said Kyle Clifford is “good” to play but was cautious as Clifford is returning from concussion symptoms.