Coming off a Memorial Cup victory, Windsor Spitfires forward Gabe Vilardi is a player who could hear his name called as early as 3rd overall in the upcoming 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
The 6-foot-2 and 192-pound centre was a force at Mastercard Memorial Cup, ending the tournament with 7 assists in 4 games. In the championship final he had two primary assists, one of which was on the game winning goal by Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco.
Vilardi's skill-set was on full display throughout the entire week in Windsor, after a very impressive rookie season. His two-way game allows him to be a consistent threat whenever he is on the ice. He uses his size to create space for himself and his linemates. He doesn't limit how he creates offence as he charges the net, make seeing eye passes or holds onto the puck until a better opportunity is presented.
Vilardi is a natural centre but was shifted to the left wing to ensure that he played in the top six for Windsor. He would play centre on the powerplay and sometimes lined up there at even strength play, so it will be interesting to see where he ends up in the coming years. He did end the OHL season with a 51.1% winning percentage in the dot, so although he didn't get as many reps in the circle as his counterparts, he was effective when he was there.
Video: Gabe Vilardi - Prospect Profile
The Spitfires is one of the younger players in this draft class with his birthday being August 16th 1999. That is always important to remember when looking at the whole picture of a player. For example, Brandon Wheat Kings forward Nolan Patrick was born on September 19th, 1998, so the difference between Vilardi and Patrick is almost 11 months. That is a huge difference when looking at these young prospects.
Looking at this season specifically, one interesting wrinkle in Vilardi's year was Windsor hosting the Memorial Cup. Since they were hosting the 99th edition of the tournament, they automatically received entry into the tournament despite being eliminated by Olli Juolevi and the London Knights in the first round of the OHL playoffs. This meant that Vilardi and the Spitfires had 43 days off between games.
It appears that Vilardi made the most of that time off, as one of the concerns entering the season for Vilardi was that his skating wasn't a strength. It wasn't a weakness of his game, but it was defiantly something that needed to improve for him to be an effective player in the future. He had noticeably improved his skating slowly over the course of the season, but in his improvement on his edge work at the Memorial Cup was apparent. He was able to shift from side to side and adjust angles while carrying the puck. Something that he wouldn't have been able to do last year.
Obviously he will need to continue to improve that part of his game, but comparing where he was at the beginning of this season to now shows an obvious improvement that should help qualm some of those scouts concerns.
Given that he started the season with a knee injury, which he suffered at the Under 18 World Juniors training camp - that improvement is even more impressive. He also missed some time due to an appendectomy in November.
Those two injuries resulted in Vilardi playing less games during his draft season compared to his peers in the OHL. However, his 61 points were ranked 9th in that peer group, and because he only appeared in 49 regular season contests, his point per game rate was third.
Vilardi averaged 3.06 shots per game during the regular season, which was 5th in that same group of forwards.
The Kingston, Ontario native has all the makings of a power forward in the NHL. His size, compete level and toolbox just seems destined to make it to the NHL. It's clear that scouts have taken notice and this is why he will be selected so early in the first round in a couple of weeks. If there were any doubts about what kind of an impact Vilardi was able to make, they should be quieted after his fantastic performance in the Memorial Cup.