Injured Winnipeg Jets forward Gabriel Vilardi could make his much anticipated return to the lineup on Thursday when they host the Edmonton Oilers.
It’s been six weeks since he sprained the MCL in his knee, but time hasn’t changed his opinion on the hit from his ex-teammate with the Los Angeles Kings Blake Lizotte, which left him out of the lineup for the past month and a half.
“I think it was kind of a play that doesn’t need to happen, but what am I supposed to do now,” Vilardi said after Wednesday’s practice. “I played with him a lot. He’s done a lot of little things like that…It’s not an awkward fall. It’s someone pushing your feet out from the back. My knee gets caught under me and he tackles me. It’s that simple. I was pretty close to being gone for the rest of the season. It’s frustrating to look at stuff like that and think about it.”
Vilardi was injured against his former team in just the third game of the season and has missed the past 18 games.
“Obviously, I don’t think his intent is to hurt me, but when you make plays like that, it’s a stupid play. And it’s frustrating to think that guy sits in the box for two minutes and then I have to deal with what I’ve dealt with the past month and a half, but that’s life.”
Vilardi was asked if he’s been in contact with Lizotte since the injury.
“That’s between me and him,” he said. “I’m not going to get into that.”
Vilardi is testing out a new brace for his injured knee.
“It’s not ideal,” said Vilardi. “You play hockey without a brace your whole life and then you’re getting asked to put something under your gear that you’re not comfortable with. So, yeah, it is important to find the brace and make sure it fits.
“Maybe I got a little bit of like OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder). It bugs me. So, there’s been that battle with the AT (athletic therapist) guys, but I have to wear it.”
The Jets are looking at easing Vilardi back in on the fourth line, but there’s still no guarantee he suits up against the Oilers.
“It’s not 100 per cent he’s in tomorrow,” head coach Rick Bowness said. “We’re hoping that he plays tomorrow. Then we’re going to have to be a little patient with him. He’s missed a lot of time. The game has ramped up a lot from when he was playing in early October.”