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

Second-to-last day, Insiders!

We’ve got three players who made important strides or recoveries this season for your reading pleasure. First up is Gabe Vilardi, with a focus on his development and production this season, heading into his free agency, of the restricted variety, this offseason. With Sean Walker, it’s his impressive return from a serious injury to getting back to full form as the season progressed. For Alex Edler, he felt no real effects from his own longer-term injury last season, as he exceeded 60 games for the first time since 2018, as he now contemplates his playing future this offseason.

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

Gabe Vilardi & Sean Walker

Gabe Vilardi
Terrific season from forward Gabe Vilardi.

We all know about his path from training camp through the end of the season. Vilardi entered camp as a likely member of the roster, but not a lock. He worked his way off any sort of bubble and not only onto the roster but into the lineup……and not only into the lineup but into the Top 9. As Kevin Fiala said during his own interview, Vilardi started scoring and never stopped scoring, en route to a career-high in goals, leading the team for a chunk of the season.

On that side, Vilardi started scoring on a consistent basis, for the first time in his NHL career.

“I mean, maybe more consistently, I think I’ve had spurts, but I think I kind of put it more together this year. I still feel like individually and as a team, we’ve still got more to prove. I think it’s just consistency. I think I had proven, not this year but before, that I can make plays and do stuff. I think this year was the first time I did it on a more consistent basis.”

To produce with the Kings, however, it’s about producing within a 200-foot system. Like it or hate it, the Kings are still built upon defensive-zone play and taking care of their own end first. Vilardi spent a large portion of last season in the AHL learning the positional change from center to wing. This summer, he put a lot of time into improving his defensive-zone play to become a more trusting player within the system and he accomplished that, producing on top of his reliability in the defensive zone.

“I think my big thing, earlier in my career, was really just the defense, obviously the structure and the way we play, we check for our chances and the defense is a priority, I feel like I worked on that last summer and improved. With that comes more trust from the coaches to play for them, I think.”

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

He’s now established himself as an offensive talent and he’s grown in the defensive area of his game. An interesting closing note was that he took away something specific from playing against Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid in the playoffs, which was how good they were along the boards and in the corners. Vilardi and Draisaitl are both bigger players who are not elite skaters, so it’s a comparison he can make. That resonated with him and he’s hopeful to draw that into his own game over the summer.

“I think maybe just board play, down low. Watching Leon and Connor, they’re so good in the corners and just protecting pucks and I think I need to work on that. I think that would be something easy to work on, but I’m going into the summer with an open mindset.”

Sean Walker
Walker’s season began differently than Vilardi’s, though with just as many unknowns.

Walker played just six games last season before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee, which required surgery that cost him the remainder of the season.

“I think when it first happened, 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 would he truly be ready to be Sean Walker? Walker’s biggest asset as a player is his skating ability. It’s why he initially earned a contract extension from the Kings and it’s why Todd McLellan inserted him into the lineup midway through the series versus Edmonton. It’s also the area most impacted by his injury early last season, one which caused him to miss the entirety of the postseason.

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

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

With a good finish to the season now behind him, Walker acknowledged he’d likely decline any potential invitation from Team Canada for the World Championships, to prepare for his wedding this summer. From there, he admitted the future is unknown.

Walker is a dynamic, right-handed defenseman, which happens to be the deepest part of the Kings prospect pool. He believes he can contribute here and wants to be here for the long term, but as goaltender Joonas Korpisalo said in his own exit interview, time will tell.

“Obviously, you know the guys that are coming up, you know where the cap is at, so we’ll see what happens. I know I can contribute and play here and that’s where I want to be, but at the end of the day the organization’s got to do what they think is best.”

Alexander Edler

When Edler returned from injury a season ago, his recovery timeline was incredibly impressive. Todd McLellan later shared it was the player himself accelerating the timeline to help the team when a rash of injuries on the blueline saw all six defensemen from opening night out injured at the same time. Edler got back into action, provided stability and wound up playing in all seven playoff games against Edmonton.

Coming into this season, Edler’s workload was reduced a bit, as he sat one-half of many, but not all, back-to-backs. More than anything, that was about management and wanting the player to be as fresh as possible throughout the course of 82 games, as opposed to necessarily an inability to play. Off the injury, Edler said he didn’t feel any residual effects this season.

“I felt good from the injury last year,” he said. “My body felt pretty good all year, not really anything. I had the little thing at the end of the year, but overall the body felt good.”

Edler’s banner achievement this season was reaching the 1,000-game milestone. Edler was celebrated on New Year’s Day for achieving the feat, as he became just the sixth Swedish defenseman in NHL history to play in 1,000 games. Though he spent the bulk of that time with the Vancouver Canucks, he was still happy to achieve 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 milestone on the personal side that will stick with him.

“I’m very proud that I got to 1,000 games. Throughout my career, I’ve had a lot of injuries, so it was a great accomplishment for a personal one. I’m very happy that I did it here and everything that the organization and the guys did for me, around that special moment, it was great.”

Moving ahead, Edler isn’t yet sure what comes next.

He said his body feels good and he believes he’d like to continue playing, but as a husband and a father, he knows those conversations include his family as well and what’s best overall. He admitted it could take a little bit of time to come to a final decision, so we’ll see where he eventually lands.

“I’m not sure,” he answered, honestly. “The easy answer would be to keep playing until I’m 45 or something like that, but there are a lot of factors now, with getting a new contract, seeing how the body feels, and talking to my family. We’ll see.”

We’ll finish up exit interviews tomorrow with a few younger players, before an overall look at the five biggest questions raised from the interviews as a whole. Then, it’s a bit of a brether on LAKI, before we get into seasons in review in a couple of weeks.

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