Three plays that defined the debut of Kings' Gabriel Vilardi

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5 min read
fairly easy
Kings rookie center Gabriel Vilardi scored a goal on his first NHL shift and showed his composure after long battle back from injury.
Nerves kept Gabriel Vilardi awake deep into Wednesday night, then early into Thursday morning.

The Kings rookie dozed off for a little while, drifting into a shallow sleep for an hour or two. But then the butterflies came back. After years of waiting, his NHL debut couldn't come fast enough.

"I was so nervous," Vilardi said, laughing at himself from his locker late Thursday night.

As it turned out, he had no reason to be. In the Kings' 5-4 win over the Florida Panthers, Vilardi scored a goal on his first shift, assisted on another in the second period, played key minutes down the stretch and was named the game's first star.

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"To have him play tonight, everybody was excited," coach Todd McLellan said. "The enthusiasm was contagious."

To better understand his impressive introduction, here are three plays that defined a night Vilardi will never forget, a trio of snapshots that captured the potential that might be lying in the prospect's future:

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During the national anthem before the game Thursday, McLellan caught a glimpse of Vilardi on the bench.

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A year ago, the first-year Kings coach wouldn't have been able to pick Vilardi out of a crowd. When he was hired by the franchise in April, he only knew the 20-year-old center's backstory: A former 11th overall pick whose pathway to the pros was detoured by a yearlong back injury.

"He's ... had a different path," McLellan said. "Quite often as a first-rounder, you're given every opportunity. He had to go work for his, because of injury. There were some days where he and others wondered if he'd ever play again."

As the anthem finished, McLellan wanted to know what Vilardi was thinking. He figured Vilardi was nervous and expected he might need a few shifts to settle in. He was wrong. Moments after stepping on NHL ice for the first time, Vilardi was celebrating his first career goal.

Gabe Vilardi scores his first career NHL goal on his…
Jack Harris
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