Gabriel Vilardi missed the beginning of the 2016-17 campaign as he recovered from a knee injury sustained at Hockey Canada’s U18 training camp and had an appendectomy in November. He overcame these unforeseen setbacks and led his team in goals (29) and points (61) in the regular season despite playing just 49 games.
The Windsor Spitfires forward lists Pavel Datsyuk and Danny Briere as his two hockey idols growing up and models his game after John Tavares, but you’ll also see shades of Ryan Getlzaf when you watch him play.
“Vilardi is a high-end possession centre with excellent hockey sense and puck-handling ability.” director NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. “He plays a very composed game with the puck, using his vision and playmaking ability to influence the game in all three zones. Vilardi excels below the dots in the offensive zone, where he utilizes his size and reach to control the play and generate scoring opportunities.”
Here’s some more on Vilardi.
Age on June 23: 17
Current Team: Windsor Spitfires
Weight: 201 pounds
From: Kingston, Ontario
NHL Central Scouting Rank (North America): 4
Jeff Marek’s Take: “Competes hard and is the most aggressive player in the draft. Strong will to win.”
He is willing to adapt on the ice to help his team
Vilardi is a 200-foot centre with a flare for offensive outbursts, but throughout much of the past season, including in the Mastercard Memorial Cup, his Spitfires coach Rocky Thompson played him on the wing.
“I wanted him in our top six,” Thompson said in May. “He arguably plays the most minutes of our forwards because he also plays both special teams. He’s an engine for us, any time he’s on the ice possession goes up. He impacts so may different areas of the game. He’s a net-front presence right now but could easily be a half-wall guy.”
It ended up being the right move for both the team and player.
“Obviously at first it was tough, but going forward I think it helps me,” Vilardi added. “I can play both positions now and that’s huge for me because you never know where you can slide in.”
Vilardi had one assist through the opening two games of the Memorial Cup, but in his team’s final two games against the Erie Otters he registered six assists and his team won as the host city. He was named a tournament all-star.
He gets his work ethic from his parents
Vilardi’s work ethic is admired by his peers and he recently told reporters at the Scouting Combine he gets it from his parents, both of whom immigrated to Ontario from Reggio Calabria in Italy. Vilardi’s parents dealt with thousands of dents and rubber marks to their garage door over the years courtesy of Gabriel and his brother, former Plymouth Whalers forward Francesco Vilardi. His father wanted his sons to play soccer, but considering where Gabriel finds himself today it seems to have been all worth it.
His media scrum savvy is already NHL all-star calibre
One common characteristic of most great NHLers is an ability to navigate a media scrum effectively. Check out Vilardi here at the Scouting Combine. The scrum begins with him starting back-to-back sentences with “Ya, I mean, obviously,” which is a veteran way to answer a question. He says nothing controversial, while dropping a variety of clichés. It’s a thing of beauty. Already sounds like a pro.