Winnipeg Jets head coach Rick Bowness told reporters today that forward Gabriel Vilardi has been diagnosed with a sprained MCL and will miss four to six weeks (via Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press). Vilardi sustained the injury in the first period of Tuesday’s game against Los Angeles in an awkward tangle with the stick of Kings center Blake Lizotte.
Vilardi, 24, was the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Kings but struggled to make an immediate impact, with multiple long-term injuries sidelining him early in his development. He finally stayed healthy for most of 2022-23, though, and had a breakout campaign with 23 goals and 41 points in 63 contests for Los Angeles. The young forward would never get to realize his full potential with the Kings, however, as his signing rights were the primary piece of the return to the Jets as part of this summer’s Pierre-Luc Dubois blockbuster deal.
The Jets immediately made it clear they viewed Vilardi as a potential high-end contributor for them, signing him to a two-year, $6.875MM deal in July. He got an early look in a high-end role, riding shotgun on the top line with Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele. His strong underlying numbers from last season appeared to carry over in a short sample, as the Connor-Scheifele-Vilardi line has absolutely dominated possession together – controlling 81% of expected goals when they’re on the ice together, per MoneyPuck. It’s a significant blow to the Jets to be without that chemistry until around American Thanksgiving. Vilardi did, however, have just one assist through three contests.
Bowness says Mason Appleton will take Vilardi’s place on Scheifele’s wing for Thursday’s game against the Golden Knights. 23-year-old David Gustafsson, who’s served as a healthy scratch for the first three games of the season, will draw into the lineup in a fourth-line role alongside Morgan Barron and Rasmus Kupari.
In 155 NHL contests since first appearing in a game in 2019-20, Vilardi has 41 goals, 38 assists and 79 points – 17th in career scoring among the 2017 class.