Kris Baker is once again counting down his list of top prospects available in the NHL Draft for Sabres.com. The first round of the 2017 NHL Draft will take place on June 23 in Chicago.
Team: Windsor (OHL)
A strong centerman with NHL size and a gifted offensive mind, Gabriel Vilardi enters the draft as a composed, top-end prospect with an efficient all-around game.
He has excellent vision and decent speed, but scouts unanimously appreciate the way he uses his size beneath the faceoff circles to generate scoring chances. He works his tail off with great shiftiness when looking to gain space, and when he does the puck just pops off his stick.
Still, Vilardi's best attribute is the way he thinks the game. He seems a step ahead of the play at the junior level, using his wits to strip pucks and dominantly win board battles while possessing the ability to slow the game down when he has the puck in the offensive zone.
A knee injury suffered in Canada's Under-18 Selection Camp kept him out of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial in August, but he returned six weeks later by firing on all cylinders with the look of a dominant two-way player and point producer before missing another five weeks due to an appendectomy on Nov. 21.
In 49 regular season games, Vilardi piled up 29 goals and 61 points, including eight power-play markers, one while short-handed and four game-winners.
Vilardi continued to assert himself in Windsor's first-round playoff series against London, scoring two goals and six points in the Spitfires' seven-game loss to the Knights. He'd later add seven assists in four games as Spitfires captured the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup.
If there is one area that Vilardi could afford to improve on over the next developmental years, it's his acceleration. Ultimately, he always gets to where he needs to be so it's not a glaring issue by any means, but it is a slight separating factor when comparing him to the other forwards at the top of the draft class.
Regardless, Vilardi is a powerful two-way player in every sense of the word that won't have to wait very long to hear his name called come draft day.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker's website, SabresProspects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@SabresProspects).
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