With his return to game action on the horizon after missing the last six weeks with an MCL sprain, Winnipeg Jets forward Gabriel Vilardi voiced his displeasure over the hit that injured him on Wednesday.
Back on Oct. 17, the 24-year-old got tangled up with Los Angeles Kings forward Blake Lizotte along the boards, with the latter tackling Vilardi at an awkward angle after putting him off balance with a whack on the shins.
— Stephen Ferracioli (@StephenFerraci1) October 18, 2023
Ahead of Thursday's Jets-Oilers clash, Vilardi, a game-time decision for the contest, told reporters he didn’t believe the injury was a result of a freak accident.
“Personally, I think it’s a play that doesn’t need to happen,” Vilardi told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “But what am I supposed to do now?”
Lizotte, 25, was a teammate of Vilardi’s with the Kings for four seasons before Vilardi was shipped off to Winnipeg in the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade.
“I’ve played with him a lot. He’s done a lot of little things like that. It’s stuff that you guys say was an awkward fall — it’s not an awkward fall,” Vilardi said. “It’s someone pushing your feet out from the back, my knee gets caught under me and then he tackles me. It’s that simple.
“I was pretty close to being gone for the rest of the season, so it’s frustrating to look at stuff like that and think about it. Obviously, I don’t think his intent was to hurt me, but you make plays like that, it’s a stupid play – and it’s frustrating to think that a guy sits in the box for two minutes and then I have to deal with what I’ve dealt with for the past month and a half.”
Vilardi, who declined to answer if Lizotte had reached out to him or not, has a history of injuries. Drafted 11th overall in the 2017 draft by Los Angeles, a chronic back ailment sidelined Vilardi for all but four games during his first pro campaign in 2018-19.
Lizotte has a history of irking the Jets, too. Back in March, Lizotte was suspended one game for cross-checking Josh Morrissey in the face.
“It was a careless play,” Morrissey said at the time. “I thought we were going to [fight] and I took a cross-check to the chin.”
Vilardi, who started the year on the team's top unit alongside Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele, was skating on the Jets’ fourth line alongside Morgan Barron and David Gustafsson during Wednesday’s practice.