Both the Los Angeles Kings and Team Canada were hoping that young forward Gabe Vilardi would be able to recover in time to take part in the upcoming World Junior Championship, but according to Mark Masters of TSN that isn’t going to happen. He had played a few conditioning games in the AHL before taking part in Canada’s selection camp, but with pre-tournament games starting this week and Vilardi still unable to practice with the team, a decision had to be made. The question now will be whether Vilardi is sent immediately back to the OHL.
While this is obviously disappointing for Vilardi, it’s good news for the rest of the Canadian forwards including 17-year old Alexis Lafreniere. The potential 2020 first-overall pick has made the squad, and given his practice spot beside Nick Suzuki and Jaret Anderson-Dolan it won’t just be as the extra forward. The young QMJHL phenom has 53 points in 31 games for the Rimouski Oceanic and has done nothing to show he shouldn’t be at the very top of the 2020 draft board.
It certainly hasn’t been a smooth ride for Vilardi since being selected 11th overall by the Kings in 2017. He played just 32 regular season games with the Kingston Frontenacs last season due to injury, and has suited up just four times this year after dealing with another back issue. All four of those contests have come in the AHL, but given his age he is not allowed to stay there for the whole season. If he is healthy enough to play, and the Kings don’t keep him with the NHL team, he’ll have to go back to the OHL where he very well could be on the trade block once again. Kingston is sitting last in the OHL Eastern Conference and could flip Vilardi for a huge package of future assets given he will not be back next season.