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NHL Draft profile — Gabriel Vilardi

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Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called in the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

And, for the second year in a row, we’re featuring special guest analysis from Ryan Kennedy, associate senior writer and prospect expert at The Hockey News.

Gabe Vilardi (C)

Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 203 pounds Shoots: Right

Team: Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Country: Canada

NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 4 North American skater

Kennedy says:

“On a Windsor Spitfires team that won the Memorial Cup, Vilardi was a key driver. His ability to hold onto the puck thanks to a combination of size and skill makes him so tantalizing as an NHL prospect. He goes into traffic and has a lethal shot, so there’s obviously a lot to get excited about here.

“Vilardi is not a complete player just yet, but that simply means that he likely needs another year or two in the OHL. Nothing wrong with that. The main concern right now involves his skating, though it’s not horrible. One scout noted that Vilardi’s feet are better than Mark Stone’s were at the same age and Stone eventually turned into a steal for the Ottawa Senators.

“Vilardi also needs to get more reps at center, as he also played wing this year.”

Related: Gabe Vilardi deserves your attention

For the rest of the 2017 NHL Draft profiles, click here

Bolts re-sign Budaj — two years, $2.05 million


Tampa Bay has a backup for Andrei Vasilevskiy for the foreseeable future — per TSN, goalie Peter Budaj has signed a two-year, $2.05 million extension with an average annual cap hit of $1.025M.

A new deal was expected to be consummated. Last month, Bolts GM Steve Yzerman indicated the organization wanted to keep Budaj around after acquiring him at the deadline in the Ben Bishop-to-L.A. trade.

“We were very please with the finish to the season Peter had,” Yzerman said, in an interview with WDAE 620 radio. “We’d very much be interested in bringing him back.”

Budaj, 34, was one of the biggest surprises in the league last year. He was originally signed to be the Kings’ No. 3 netminder, but ascended to the starting job after an injury to Jonathan Quick and ineffective play from Jeff Zatkoff.

It was a noteworthy development for a guy that played exactly one game during the ’15-16 campaign, and was out of the NHL entirely the year prior. Budaj responded by going 30-21-3 this season, with a .915 save percentage and 2.18 GAA — most of it with the Kings.

After joining the Bolts, he started four times and won three games as the club made a frenetic late push for a playoff spot.

In terms of financials, Tampa Bay now has a very affordable one-two punch in goal, with Vasilevskiy entering the first of a three-year deal with a $3.5M cap hit. Collectively, Yzerman is now spending just $4.525 annually on goalies for the next two seasons.

McPhee says today is last day to make trades with Vegas


It’s going to be a manic Monday for George McPhee.

The Vegas GM announced that today will be the last day NHL clubs can complete trades to protect their players from the expansion draft, per Sportsnet. Once that deadline passes, McPhee and the Golden Knights will turn their attention to selecting players in preparation for Wednesday’s big roster reveal.

A couple of “side deals” are already believed to be in place. The Dispatch reported that Columbus will send this year’s first-round pick (24th overall) and a prospect to Vegas so that McPhee will select either left wing Matt Calvert, center William Karlsson or defenseman Ryan Murray.

There are also rumblings of Ducks GM Bob Murray having a deal in place to protect either — or both — of defensemen Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson.

Related: Vegas has plenty of options heading into expansion draft

After going unprotected, Staal holds off on commenting


Wild GM Chuck Fletcher made some pretty significant decisions over the weekend, exposing a trio of quality players for the upcoming expansion draft: defensemen Marco Scandella and Mathew Dumba, and forward Eric Staal.

All three stood out, but Staal was especially interesting. The 32-year-old is Minnesota’s top center and had a great first campaign with the Wild, leading the team in goals (28) while finishing second in points (65).

So, how does the veteran feel about being exposed? From the Star-Tribune:

The Wild felt it necessary to protect the younger, more valuable asset [forward Jason Zucker]. The Wild also may know or is simply taking a calculated risk that the Golden Knights — or another team via trade with the Golden Knights’ help — would pluck a defenseman instead of Staal with blue-liners Dumba, Scandella or even Gustav Olofsson ripe for the taking.

It’s believed Fletcher explained that to Staal. In an e-mail, Staal said he’d prefer to reserve comment until once the process is complete.

As the Tribune points out, Staal may very well remain with Minnesota after the dust settles on Wednesday. Scandella and Dumba probably have more value given they’re blueliners and fairly young — Scandella turned 27 in February, Dumba turns 23 in July — and it’s unclear how much interest Vegas GM George McPhee has in players on the wrong side of 30.

That said, Staal brings plenty to the table.

From a leadership perspective, he’s got a Stanley Cup and six years of captaincy experience on his resume. He’s still got good offensive upside, as evident from last season, and is on a pretty good contract. Staal has two years remaining on a three-year, $10.5 million deal with a $3.5M average annual cap hit.

From a big-picture perspective, it’ll be curious to see how Staal and others of his ilk feel about being exposed. Chances are there won’t be any bad feelings — as the cliche goes, “at the end of the day this is a business,” — but it still has to sting a little bit. Staal was a major catalyst for a team that won 49 games and racked up 106 points last year, and now he’s up for grabs.

Of course, Fletcher could nullify that by negotiating a deal in which McPhee doesn’t select Staal. Or Fletcher could just take the aforementioned risk that Vegas will pass.

Either way, we’ll have to wait until after Wednesday to hear what Staal thinks.

NHL Draft profile — Nico Hischier

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Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called in the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

And, for the second year in a row, we’re featuring special guest analysis from Ryan Kennedy, associate senior writer and prospect expert at The Hockey News.

Nico Hischier (C)

Height: 6-foot-2 Weight: 179 pounds Shoots: Left

Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

Country: Switzerland

NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 2 North American skater

Kennedy says: “If you just saw Hischier at the World Junior Championship, you’d still be impressed (he almost beat Team USA in the quarterfinal by himself), but he also had an excellent year in the QMJHL. The Swiss import took a very young Mooseheads team onto his shoulders and spirited them into the playoffs, where they gave heavy favorites Rouyn-Noranda all the Huskies could handle.

“Hischier’s skill, hockey IQ and quickness all make him hard to handle in the offensive zone, much like a former Halifax star: Jonathan Drouin.

“The most exciting part about Hischier is that his ascent has been so rapid. Could he work his way into an NHL lineup straight from the draft? Well, considering he does nothing but exceed expectations, why not?”

Related: Hischier not caught up in ‘Nico vs. Nolan’ hype

For the rest of the 2017 NHL Draft profiles, click here