Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings (50%) and the staff rankings (50%) to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 3, 2018, when the 2018-19 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our sixth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. This year, taking over the #1 spot is Gabe Vilardi.
Age: 19 (August 16, 1999)
2017-18 Team: Kingston Frontenacs
2017-18 Statistics: 32 GP, 22 G, 36 A, 58 P (Playoffs: 16 GP, 11 G, 11 A, 22 P)
Jewels Reader Ranking: 1
Jewels Staff Ranking: 1
Last Year’s Ranking: 2
Coming in hot at #1 is Gabriel Vilardi, who very narrowly beat out Adrian Kempe for the top spot in our Top 25 Under 25 rankings. The top-rated center has been the subject of many trade proposals, though, so far, no offer has been enough to get the Kings to trade one of their brightest prospects.
In 2017, LA Kings fans could hardly believe it when Vilardi had “slipped” all the way down to the 11th spot. From fellow Jewels from the Crown writer Carlos Feliciano last year:
TSN’s Bob McKenzie had him ranked fifth. SB Nation’s Scott Wheeler said third, as did ESPN’s Corey Pronman. Future Considerations and Craig Button fourth, Jeff Marek sixth. Regardless of where you look, no pre-draft ranking had Vilardi outside the top ten.
Rumors abounded this past summer that Vilardi had a real shot at making the NHL team right out of training camp as early as last year. Cautiously, due to Vilardi’s back injury, Rob Blake and the team’s higher ups decided to return Vilardi to juniors for an additional year. No action is without risk and it would not have been prudent to his career to be held out of all on-ice activities. So there was hope this summer that injury was behind him. Unfortunately, news broke that Vilardi wouldn’t participate in rookie camp and has so far been held out of the main training camp, to much disappointment.
Back injuries suck and definitely need a lot of time to heal, so it’s probably wise that all parties involved have agreed that he shouldn’t be playing, even if it is just training camp.
In January, Vilardi was part of an OHL blockbuster trade which saw him go from the Windsor Spitfire to the Kingston Frontenacs as his old team was in an apparent rebuild. It didn’t take long for Vilardi to make his presence felt.
In 32 games with Kingston, Vilardi scored 22 goals and 36 assists, a better rate than his 29 goals and 32 assists in 49 games with Windsor. It may have been some of combination of his injury (he was held out of the World Junior Championship as a precaution) and Kingston being a much better team than Windsor, who as mentioned earlier, was in a rebuild.
What’s next for the could-be-poor-man’s-Anze-Kopitar remains to be seen. He’s been knocked in the past for poor skating abilities, but his natural scoring talent is enough to keep Vilardi in the realm of “most intriguing prospects.” Hopefully, given enough time and rest, the 19-year-old Kingston native will be able to overcome his nagging back injury and showcase his amazing skills in the NHL.