Eden Prairie (Minnesota) High School center Casey Mittelstadt is a left-handed shot. Windsor center Gabriel Vilardi is a right-handed shot.
That might be the biggest difference between the two forwards when NHL scouts try to decide who they would take in the 2017 NHL Draft. In a poll of 10 NHL scouts conducted by NHL.com, Vilardi came away with a 6-4 advantage.
Vilardi (6-foot-3, 202 pounds), No. 4 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had 61 points (29 goals, 32 assists) in 49 regular-season games for Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League. He had seven assists in four games to help lead Windsor to its third Memorial Cup championship. Many of the scouts felt his play during the Memorial Cup elevated his draft status. His best asset is his puck possession, particularly below the tops of the circles, where he dominates.
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"Vilardi to me is strong on the puck and in possessing the puck, he creates scoring chances and is very hard to handle 1-on-1," said Craig Button, TSN director of scouting and a former NHL general manager.
Mittelstadt (5-11, 199), No. 3 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had 72 points (23 goals, 49 assists) in 30 games for Eden Prairie. He also had 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 24 games with Green Bay of the United States Hockey League. His average of 1.25 points per game led the USHL. The University of Minnesota recruit has elite skill that enabled him to produce at both levels of competition.
Green Bay (34-22-4) went 17-7-0 with Mittelstadt in the lineup.
"[Mittelstadt] is skilled and has lots of ability to create offense but it's hard to get inside the dots, even with skill," Button said. "I have no question Casey can do that, but Vilardi can do that below the circles or goal line."
NHL.com sought the opinion of NHL scouts who have watched Mittelstadt and Vilardi this season. The scouts promised honesty in exchange for anonymity.
Video: Casey Mittelstadt & Gabriel Vilardi on Final, Combine
In favor of Vilardi
"I may have some recent bias built into my answer, but after watching the Memorial Cup I would take Vilardi. He's continued to get better and better and I don't think Windsor wins the Memorial Cup without him. Vilardi and Mittelstadt are two different players in terms of style. Casey creates more off the rush and Gabriel is one of the best, if not the best, below the tops of the circles. Vilardi's skating has continued to improve and he has demonstrated that he can elevate his play and be successful in any type of game environment."
"Mittelstadt makes it tough because he played in the USHL with a lot of effectiveness, but that body of work is still a smaller one. Gabe Vilardi had the luxury of playing through the Memorial Cup and you saw what happened to him as his game progressed. I think his role with his team became the right role as they went through the Memorial Cup; you saw the kind of player he could be. I think Vilardi might be a little ahead. He has a great pro game."
Video: Prospect Profile: Gabriel Vilardi
In favor of Mittelstadt
"Mittelstadt doesn't get the recognition because of where he plays and some organization may devalue the fact that he was in Green Bay in the USHL and then he went back to high school at Eden Prairie. The thing is, when Mittelstadt left Green Bay, look at what Green Bay did as compared to when he was there; look at their record. Guys will fight to play with him."
"I think Mittelstadt is a more dynamic offensive player. I love Vilardi and the way he plays, but someone will look at Mittelstadt and say, 'He's a boy that has much more maturing to do and has greater upside and growth.' Vilardi is good right now and maybe his upside isn't as high. I think Mittelstadt will get bigger and stronger and at this time he's nowhere near the player he will become."
Video: The curious case of Casey Mittelstadt