Fans hoping to catch Gabriel Vilardi in action at next week’s rookie games against Vegas will unfortunately have to wait longer to see the club’s top draft pick in action. The Kings announced Thursday that Vilardi, the Windsor Spitfires forward selected 11th overall at the 2017 NHL Draft, will miss all on-ice activity at Los Angeles’ upcoming rookie camp and training camp due to a back sprain.
“Gabe has already begun his rehabilitation and continues to work hard,” General Manager Rob Blake said in a team release. “The injury is something that flared up throughout the summer.”
(In correspondence with Spitfires GM Warren Rychel, Jim Parker of the Windsor Star noted Vilardi has a hip injury and in a separate story said the forward “has been in California all summer” as he rehabilitates it.)
Vilardi did not skate at the club’s development camp, held the final week of June at Toyota Sports Center. At the time, that was attributed largely to the conclusion of a long season that culminated in Vilardi hoisting the Memorial Cup on May 28. But he did not skate with Canada at the World Junior Summer Showcase that bridged June and July, and recent correspondence across the OHL did not offer an indication that he had resumed skating.
Vilardi will continue to be evaluated throughout his rehabilitation, but at this point there’s no timetable on his return.
Among the younger players in his draft class, Vilardi, who turned 18 on August 16, gutted through a pair of freak ailments during a draft season in which he impressively totaled 29 goals and 61 points in 49 games. He suffered a knee injury at a Hockey Canada camp in August, 2016, and after returning on October 6 and posting nine points in his first four games, was sidelined by an appendectomy that cost him the end of November and almost all of December.
A possession hound who excels in front of the net and is capable of making plays off the rush and the half-wall, Vilardi, who will also focus on improving his skating, was projected as among the very first draft selections after top prospects Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick were off the board. It’s nebulous whether his drop at the NHL Draft was directly related to his injury history, but Vilardi, the fourth ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, was seen as more likely to be selected by Colorado at #3 than Los Angeles at #11. The Kings current management group was also high on Owen Tippett at their draft spot, but when he was chosen by Florida at #10, they were very excited to have the opportunity to pick Vilardi one spot later.
By selecting Vilardi, the Kings checked off a major box in their organizational structure by claiming a player with the potential to play in the NHL as a first line center. (Vilardi also saw time on the wing during periods of his draft year but still projects as a center and was strong on faceoffs in 2016-17.) This injury doesn’t change that outlook but delays their ability to finally get him on the ice and with their renowned development group that would have been able to more quickly work with him on his skating.
It also delays the start of the OHL season for the competitive young goal scorer and playmaker who grew up a big fan of both Daniel Briere and Jeff Carter.
Though Vilardi won’t compete, the Kings will host the Golden Knights for a pair of rookie games at Toyota Sports Center at 5:00 p.m. on September 12 and 1:00 p.m. on September 13. $10 tickets for each game are available for purchase on the day of the game at TSC, with proceeds from all ticket sales benefiting the Kings Care Foundation. Rookie camp takes place from September 8-13, with training camp opeming on September 13. Los Angeles opens the preseason against Vancouver on Saturday, October 16 at Staples Center.