It’s the time of year where junior and college seasons are winding down, leading to a number of prospects inking their first professional contracts. Here are three such recently-signed players.
Gabe Vilardi – LAK
A projected top-five pick heading in the 2017 draft, Gabriel Vilardi unexpectedly fell into the laps of the LA Kings at number 11 due to some concerns over his foot speed. But given how he’s played thus far since being selected it’s looking like those pre-draft projections were spot on.
Coming into the OHL with a strong pedigree as the second overall pick in the 2015 OHL draft by the Windsor Spitfires, Vilardi put together and excellent rookie season on a deep team to the tune of 17 goals and 21 helpers in 62 regular season contests and was named to the OHL Second All-Rookie Team. However he was one of only a handful of Spits that finished in the minus with a minus-seven. Big things were expected out of Vilardi in his draft year, but it got off to a delayed start thanks to a knee injury that cost him the first few weeks of the year. But when he did return to action he did not disappoint. Despite playing just 49 games Vilardi led the Spitfires in goals (29) and points (61) while finishing tied for second in assists with 32. Windsor made the playoffs but was bounced in the first round, but being that they were the host city of the Memorial Cup, they received automatic entry to the tournament and certainly made the most of it. In four games, Vilardi dished out seven helpers in four games in the tournament, en route to a championship and was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star Team. He’s missed a huge chunk of the 2017-18 campaign with a back injury that he suffered during the summer and, while on the shelf, was dealt to his hometown Kingston Frontenacs on New Year’s Day. Has been a dominant force for them since with 17 goals and 48 points, putting him third on the team in scoring despite having only suited up for 26 games. 36 of his 48 points are primary points and his point-per-game average of 1.85 is second in the OHL.
Vilardi is considered untouchable by the Kings as several teams were after him at the trade deadline, and with good reason. A top-line centre in the making, there is an extremely high likelihood that he’s in a Kings uniform come the fall.
Ty Ronning – NYR
Boasting some NHL bloodlines, Ronning was a seventh-round pick, like his dad Cliff, of the New York Rangers, selecting him 201st overall in the 2016 draft. Ronning the younger is currently competing in his fifth junior campaign with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL and, while he's experienced some ups and downs during his time there, on the whole it's been a successful junior career. The Giants picked Ronning with the 15th overall pick of the Bantam draft and as a 16-year old produced nine goals and 11 assists in 56 games. He finished 11th in the league in scoring among U17 players behind a number of notable names including Mathew Barzal, Nick Merkley and current WHL scoring leader Glenn Gawdin. His second year can only be categorized as a complete bust with injuries limiting him to 24 games in which he registered