NASHVILLE — Gabriel Vilardi deserved more attention when he and three other top prospects were introduced to the media Monday at the Stanley Cup Final.
This kid’s got the potential to be an excellent NHLer.
But Vilardi wasn’t Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, the two guys expected to go first and second overall. That pair got plenty of attention, especially Patrick.
Nor was he Casey Mittelstadt, the Minnesotan who chased his high school dream last year. Mittelstadt was popular with a lot of the American reporters at Bridgestone Arena. He also had a tough combine, so that was another story for the media to chase.
Which left Vilardi.
Despite the fact he just won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires, and despite the fact he led his team in scoring as a 17-year-old — even after missing a number of games due to injuries — Vilardi mostly stood alone while the other three prospects were surrounded by media.
About those injuries, though.
“I tore my MCL to start the season in August there, and then I got an appendectomy done in mid-November, so it was two different ones,” Vilardi told PHT, which had wandered over so he’d have somebody to speak with.
“Obviously, when you miss time, it sucks. You gotta recover and all that. You’re away from the boys. But I thought I handled it well. I thought the team handled it well.”
He finished the regular season with 29 goals and 32 assists for 61 points in 49 games. His Spitfires then blew a 3-1 series lead and lost to London in the first round of the playoffs.
But as Memorial Cup host, Windsor was still in the mix for a CHL championship. And six weeks after the loss to London, the Spitfires ran the table, beating Saint John, Seattle, and Erie in the round robin, then defeating Erie again in the final.
“We knew coming in we had a good team,” said Vilardi. “What people don’t understand is the Western Conference was so crazy. Any five of those teams … we finished fifth and we ended up winning the Memorial Cup.”
Vilardi says he models his game after John Tavares.
“I like to think I can do a bit of everything,” he said. “I’m good in my own zone. I can make plays off the rush, plays off the cycle. I’m a bit of everything.”
He said he spoke to 20 teams at the combine. But later this month in Chicago, he could be off the table as soon as No. 3.
“I just want to go to a team that wants me,” he said. “I’ll be happy wherever.”