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NHL Draft

2017 Draft: Gabriel Vilardi driven to rise higher

Windsor center generating attention in quest to move up NHL Central Scouting rankings

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Every Thursday, will look ahead to the 2017 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Windsor coach Rocky Thompson is a big proponent of tracking advanced statistics on his players throughout the Ontario Hockey League season.

When it comes to charting the success of center Gabriel Vilardi, there always seems to be one common denominator.

"The enhanced stats tell us [Vilardi] is the engine on this team because whoever plays with him, their Corsi numbers go straight up and are increased," Thompson said. "Without him, they drop significantly. We've had a ton of injuries this year so it's been a revolving door with our lines but the one common theme has been Vilardi's ability to make the players with him even better."

Vilardi (6-foot-3, 201 pounds), No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft, has attracted the attention of every NHL scout the past two seasons.

"He's very composed with the puck, and uses his vision and playmaking ability to influence the game in all three zones," said Matt Ryan of NHL Central Scouting. "He excels below the dots in the offensive zone where he uses he size and reach to dictate the play and generate scoring opportunities."

Vilardi has 50 points (24 goals, 26 assists) in 40 games this season, and 88 points (41 goals, 47 assists) in 102 OHL games.

"The [Central Scouting] ranking pushes me to work even harder; I'm not at the top and I want to get to the top," Vilardi said. "At the same time you have to make sure you go hard enough to stay [No. 3]. The draft is still a long way away but it's good that people recognize your hard work."

Brandon center Nolan Patrick is No. 1 on Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters. Halifax center Nico Hischier is No. 2.

Vilardi admits he's not yet focused on the 2017 draft. He has many teammates who experienced the same process in 2016, including Logan Brown (Ottawa Senators), Logan Stanley (Winnipeg Jets), Mikhail Sergachev (Montreal Canadiens) and Sean Day (New York Rangers).

"When you watch the NHL players, they bring it every night, they're always working hard," Vilardi said. "I'm a three-zone player. I'm a big player who works hard down low, am good at making plays off the cycle and seeing plays before they happen."

Thompson said Vilardi worked very hard on his skating in the offseason and it is the most improved area of his game.

"He's so well-rounded and smart," Thompson said. "He's extremely coachable; you can make adjustments in-game and change systems and he can adapt to those things because his hockey sense on the ice is very apparent."

Vilardi is a natural center but has alternated between center and left wing this season because of injuries throughout the Windsor lineup.

He also hasn't allowed his Canadian upbringing to phase out his Italian heritage. When he isn't scoring goals or creating plays for the Spitfires, he's kicking around a soccer ball or watching the Italian soccer club Inter Milan with his father Lino.

"I chose to play hockey but I play soccer in the summer with my dad and brother," Vilardi said. "As long as I can remember, though, I've always wanted to be a hockey player. I had some success at a young age and pushed even harder to develop, and I think that's why I stuck with it."

Vilardi's parents are first generation Italians who moved to Kingston, Ontario. His brother, Francesco, who plays for Queen's University in U Sports, started playing hockey when he was 5.

Gabriel, four years younger than his brother, soon followed. His teammates in Windsor are grateful he chose hockey over soccer.

"He's the most hard-working guy I've ever been around," Windsor goaltender Michael DiPietro said. "All he wants to do is be a hockey player and everything he does is centered around the game. That's something I admire about him."

It makes sense DiPietro would recognize Vilardi's work habits since that's what Vilardi feels sets him apart from other prospects in this draft class.

"I like to work hard; whenever I'm in a 50-50 puck race, I want to win those battles," Vilardi said. "My mindset is, I want to always get better. That's the biggest thing."

Vilardi will have a golden opportunity to shine on the Canadian Hockey League's biggest stage when the 99th Mastercard Memorial Cup tournament is held in Windsor from May 18-28. The host team receives an automatic invitation to participate against the champions from the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

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