Gabriel Vilardi checks off nearly every box of what a team would want from an NHL prospect.
His 6-foot-2, 193-pound frame gives him a great foundation to work with when it comes to moulding an NHL body and then there’s all the tangibles he possesses that have made him an elite two-way forward with the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires.
What he brings to the table is one of the best sets of hands up for grabs in the draft, high-end vision, playmaking ability and the drive to be the best.
You’ll also see a player who shows composure and maturity beyond his years, as was the case when he helped guide the Spits to the Memorial Cup.
Despite being eliminated in the first round of the OHL playoffs, Windsor made it through to the Memorial Cup as tournament hosts and put on a perfect 4-0 record.
Vilardi was one of Windsor’s top point producers with seven assists, six of which were recorded in the last two games.
That earned him a spot on the tournament all-star team.
Vilardi’s been known to make his teammates better and has grown into one of the better puck possession forwards in the OHL.
He was considered the best draft prospect in the league entering the season, and while Owen Tippett from the Mississauga Steelheads has challenged that claim at times, Vilardi is seen as more of a complete player and remains a surefire top-5 candidate.
The one knock most scouts have on Vilardi is his skating, but his hockey sense and playmaking ability have put him in a position where he’s been able to use those tools to compensate for any shortfalls.
Vilardi had a tough start to the season when he missed a few weeks due to a knee injury suffered shortly before he was expected to lead Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
Another lengthy stint out of the line up followed in November when he went through an appendectomy.
Still, despite missing 19 games due to those absences, he recorded more points than anyone in a Spitfires jersey with 61 (29 goals and 32 assists).
That came after a strong rookie season in which he wasted no time getting accustomed to the league, finishing the year with 38 points (17 goals and 21 assists).
The jury’s still out on whether or not Vilardi will be ready for the jump to the NHL next year, but most would think he’d get every opportunity, even if that means starting the year in the NHL and getting sent back to junior before reaching nine games.
Other OHL Prospects to Watch:
Nick Suzuki, C - Owen Sound Attack
ISS Rank: 11
Every year, there’s a number of players that scouts say if they were a few inches taller and 10-15 pounds heavier, they’d go much higher in the draft. Suzuki is one of those players.
Still, despite being a bit under six feet, he has quickly blossomed into one of the most dynamic forwards in the OHL.
Scoring races are often dominated by veteran players, but he finished fifth in the OHL with 96 points, including 45 goals.
Nic Hague, D - Mississauga Steelheads
ISS Rank: 18
At 6-foot-6, Hague easily stands out in a crowd. His height gives him an incredible reach to work with and he moves well for a player his size as he exits his zone efficiently in most cases.
Then of course there’s his booming shot that led to an impressive 18 goals and 46 points this season.
Hague is working on his gap control as well so he can be ready for the next level.
Robert Thomas, C - London Knights
ISS Rank: 21
If you’re looking for a defence-first minded centre, look no further than Thomas.
He projects well as a two-way forward, the kind of player who can play a top-9 role and do the little, under-appreciated things it takes to win games.
His 66 points this season were a big improvement from the 15 he recorded while he was overshadowed by the stars who led the Knights to the 2016 Memorial Cup.
Isaac Ratcliffe, LW - Guelph Storm
ISS Rank: 22
Ratcliffe is a prototypical power forward with his 6-foot-6, 203-pound frame. Most scouts see him as a project, although his scoring touch and great hands combined with his size make him a player to watch in the mid to late picks of the first round. On a struggling Storm team, he was one of the most productive players, finishing the year with 26 goals and 54 points.
Jason Robertson, LW - Kingston Frontenacs
ISS Rank: 36
It’s scary to think of how the Frontenacs would have done without Jason Robertson this season.
Their 179 goals for were a league low, but Robertson accounted for 42 of them as part of his 81-point season.
Kingston finished fourth in the Eastern Conference and made it to the second round of the playoffs while Robertson emerged as an elite sniper in the league. His skating is a concern, but fixable.
Explore full NHL Draft Preview in new digital edition or read each section below:
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1) 6 Promising NCAA Hockey Players To Watch This Year
2) Big Names on the Move Following QMJHL Trade Deadline
3) Max Gerlach Bounces Back in Off-Season
4) Common Hockey Injuries and How to Treat Them
5) Meet the 2018 World Junior Team Canada