The Kings announced Saturday that five players were “unfit to participate” in a training camp intrasquad scrimmage, creating sudden roster questions with the start of the regular season less than a week away.
Forward Gabriel Vilardi Jersey, defensemen Kurtis MacDermid Jersey and Sean Walker Jersey, and goalies Cal Petersen Jersey and Matthew Villalta were all absent during the team’s “black and white” scrimmage at Staples Center.
The team did not disclose any further information about the players’ status.
“The players that didn’t play today were deemed unfit to play,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We’re gonna have to be prepared for that throughout the season, whether it’s now, three months from now, four months from now. That can pop up at any time.”
The Kings’ 56-game schedule begins at home Thursday against the Minnesota Wild. Since the start of Kings training camp Dec. 31, Saturday marked the first time any of their players missed a practice.
Todd McLellan on #LAKings absences: “The players that didn’t play today were deemed unfit to play, and we’re gonna have to be prepared for that throughout the season, whether it’s now, three months from now, four months from now. That can pop up at any time.” https://t.co/9Oeq8QdFf1
— Jack Harris (@Jack_A_Harris) January 10, 2021
“We were aware of a few of them yesterday and another one or two this morning,” McLellan said.
McLellan wasn’t sure when the missing players might be able to return and reiterated the “unfit to play” line when asked directly whether their absence was related to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. He expects Thursday’s season opener to go ahead as scheduled.
“We’re ready to go, to move players around,” McLellan said. “We expect to have these bumps in the road as we go forward. There’s nothing that’s going to be normal about this season, so we have to be ready to roll.”
Yesterday, (Jan. 9, 2021) the Los Angeles Kings announced that five players are “unfit to participate” in a training camp scrimmage. This list includes goaltenders Cal Petersen and Matthew Villalta, blueliners Kurtis MacDermid and Sean Walker, and forward Gabriel Vilardi. (From ‘Kings announce five players ‘unfit to participate’ in camp scrimmage’, Los Angeles Times, 1/9/21).
Sean Walker Los Angeles Kings
Sean Walker, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
The team did not disclose why any of the players were missing the scrimmage. Meaning, it’s unknown whether they are missing it due to COVID-19 related precautions, injuries, being out of shape, or for other reasons.
Although it’s worrying that five players were deemed unfit to play, other teams have also recently had players ruled unfit. The Pittsburgh Penguins canceled their practice yesterday due to COVID precautions. The Colorado Avalanche recently held practices without four “key” players due to them being unfit. (From ‘Avalanche continues training camp without four key players, each “unfit”’, The Denver Post, 1/5/21). The Columbus Blue Jackets have also been forced to hold players out of practice due to COVID-19 protocols.
This all shows that, despite the bad news of having players ruled unfit, LA isn’t alone in this situation. All five of the Kings who were deemed unfit are poised to have varying levels of impact at the NHL this season. Here’s a quick lock at what was expected from each player.
The skater with the loftiest expectations is Gabriel Vilardi. In 2019-20, he stepped in on the Kings’ second line for 10 games, where he posted seven points and the team posted a seven-game winning streak.
Gabriel Vilardi of the Windsor Spitfires. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.)
His faceoff numbers were also quite impressive, as Vilardi took 92 faceoffs, and won 49 of them. That’s a 53.5 faceoff percentage (FO%). If he were to sustain a 53.5 FO% through a full season, it would make him one of the league’s premier faceoff takers. New York Islander’s forwards Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Casey Cizikas both posted a 53.5 FO% this season, tying them for 32nd in the league among the players who took the 100 most faceoffs.
Due to his exceptional NHL stint, Vilardi has been labeled a potential Calder Trophy Contender.
Cal Petersen & Matthew Villalta
The two goaltenders who are out are Villalta and Petersen. The Kings likely are planning on continuing using the same goaltending duo as last season, which was Jonathan Quick Jersey and Petersen.
Related: Jonathan Quick Should See a Decreased Role with the LA Kings
Villalta has the potential to be on the Kings “taxi squad” if they decided to have an extra goalie, which would probably be a good idea. If not, he would have been set to play in the AHL.
Sean Walker and Kurtis MacDermid
The article from the Los Angeles Times said that Walker and MacDermid were both skating on the Kings’ third defensive pairing during training camp. MacDermid is known for being a physical, hard-hitting defender, while Walker is known more for his skill.
Related: Kings Get a Steal With Sean Walker’s New Deal
Walker played an important role on both of the Kings’ special team units in 2019-20, which would likely continue in 2020-21. He’s good in both zones at even-strength, and his offensive ability is underrated compared to defencemen with similar (or the same) offensive totals in 2019-20.
What it Means
Walker, MacDermid, Petersen, and Vilardi were all expected to make the Kings’ opening night roster. Considering the Kings hadn’t played hockey in months prior to the training camp, it definitely wouldn’t be helpful for these players to miss part of it. However, it’s not too worrying, as the Kings haven’t indicated that any of these players will miss significant amounts of time.
Other NHL teams have dealt with player absences over the last week as the league prepares to begin a 56-game season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Dallas Stars were forced to delay their season opener after the league announced Friday that six players and two staff members had tested positive for the virus.
Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar Jersey, right, talks to Drew Doughty Jersey during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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Jan. 8, 2021
The Columbus Blue Jackets had 19 players miss practice Friday “out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols,” according to a team statement.
The Pittsburgh Penguins elected to cancel a practice Saturday because of a possible COVID-19 exposure.
For the Kings, Vilardi, MacDermid, Walker and Petersen were all expected to be in their opening night lineup.
Vilardi, the No. 11 overall draft pick in 2017, had been playing center on the team’s third line while preparing for his first full NHL season. MacDermid and Walker were playing together on the team’s No. 3 defensemen pairing. Petersen had been sharing goaltending duties with Jonathan Quick.
Boston University’s Trevor Zegras during an NCAA hockey game against Northern Michigan on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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McLellan said it was too soon to know how the team’s final roster decisions might now be impacted leading up to Tuesday’s deadline to trim the active roster to 23 players and name a four- to six-player taxi squad.
“The good news is a lot of the players that are involved in training camp have now been in the organization for a while,” McLellan said. “They have been playing the system that we want to put in place … so we should be able to plug players in. They should understand why and how we’re doing things. They should be champing at the bit to get that opportunity.”