The Los Angeles Kings haven’t gotten a shot at a true top-end prospect in the draft in quite some time. They might not have been expecting to get that shot with the 11th overall pick. When a player viewed by many as a top-five prospect dropped out of the top ten, though, LA got that opportunity and took it.
Gabriel Vilardi (who will henceforth be known simply as Gabe) is a fantastic prize for the Kings at #11, especially after being the fourth-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting and third overall by International Scouting Services. Vilardi was the eighth center selected, which is astounding when you look at most of the prospect rankings, draft boards, and reviews.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie had him at #5 overall and the third-best center behind Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick.
The knock on Vilardi is that he's an awkward skater and the debate rages between scouts over whether he’s a poor skater or one who gets there but doesn't look pretty doing it... Those scouts who think his skating is a legitimate concern see him as a winger; those who think his skating is substance over style think he could still be a big (6-foot-3, 203 pounds) NHL centre.
In any event, his hockey sense, ability to create offence and puck-protection talents makes him a consensus Top 5 prospect.
SB Nation’s Scott Wheeler had Vilardi as perhaps the top option for teams picking outside the top two.
In Vilardi, you’ve got a possession-driving catalyst who has shown he can dictate the game from the wing as well as he can at center. Long term, while he projects as a center (right-shot centers with offensive flair are few and far between in today’s NHL), Vilardi’s versatility and his knack for playing several positions on the power play and the penalty kill will make him a valuable piece in an NHL top-six.
And his OHL coach, Rocky Thompson, focuses on the possession aspect of his game, which makes us drool a little bit.
"The enhanced stats tell us [Vilardi] is the engine on this team because whoever plays with him, their Corsi numbers go straight up and are increased," Thompson said. "Without him, they drop significantly. We've had a ton of injuries this year so it's been a revolving door with our lines but the one common theme has been Vilardi's ability to make the players with him even better."
We’ll have deeper analysis on where Vilardi fits in the picture, especially on a team with two established centers in the top six. And if you’re wondering why he dropped? Most seem to think his main weakness is skating. INTERESTING.
The #LAKings indeed take Gabe Vilardi, whose main weakness is skating. You know, like Luc Robitaille. Or Tyler Toffoli. Or Tanner Pearson. O— Jewels from the (@JFTC_Kings) June 24, 2017
Welcome to Los Angeles, Gabe. We really are thrilled to have you.