Coming off the experience of a lifetime, 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup champions Gabriel Vilardi and Michael DiPietro are ready for another whirlwind.
The 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago is fast approaching and the Windsor Spitfires duo is putting the championship celebration on hold for a few days as they await what’s in store for them this coming weekend.
Both played starring roles in the concerted effort that saw the Spitfires hoist the Memorial Cup on home ice, bringing the prestigious trophy back to the Ontario Hockey League for a league record third straight year.
Vilardi, the fourth ranked North American skater on NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings released in mid-April, was named to the Mastercard Memorial Cup All-Star Team after he led the Spitfires with seven assists in four games. Two of those helpers came in Windsor’s 4-3 championship final victory over the OHL champion Erie Otters.
A 6-foot-2, 193Ib. versatile centreman with a calm demeanour, Vilardi is taking things in stride in the days leading up to Friday’s first round.
“Honestly, I have no idea, he told Doug Graham of the Kingston Whig-Standard. “With the rankings and all that, it is pretty wide open. I don’t know what is going to happen with trades and all that as well. There’s the expansion thing [the Vegas Golden Knights] as well. I’m not too sure what is going to happen.”
The New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks will begin Friday’s proceedings, with one of those clubs likely to scoop up the Kingston native who is still basking in Mastercard Memorial Cup satisfaction.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” Vilardi added. “It’s a pretty special feeling winning. It is a great tournament to go 4-0. I don’t think many expected us to do that.”
Windsor’s well-documented resurgence from a first round playoff exit under head coach Rocky Thompson made Mastercard Memorial Cup history as the Spits became the 10th host team to win the national title since 1983.
None of that would have been possible without great goaltending.
Windsor-area product Michael DiPietro, who just turned 18 on June 9th, followed in the footsteps of 2016 Calgary Flames second round pick Tyler Parsons of the London Knights who received the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy as the tournament’s top goaltender.
DiPietro was outstanding, joining Vilardi on the Mastercard Memorial Cup All-Star Team with a 2.00 goals-against average, a .932 save percentage and a 4-0 record. He turned aside 32 shots in the championship final against Erie as the Spitfires were outshot 35-22.
The fourth-ranked North American goaltender by NHL Central Scouting, the well-versed DiPietro recently attended the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo and took the opportunity to meet with NHL teams face-to-face.
“I wanted to meet with them on a personal level, so they get to know Michael DiPietro as a person as well because you don’t just draft Michael DiPietro the player, you are also drafting me as a person,” he told Jim Parker of the Windsor Star.
Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips was the first goaltender off the board last summer in Buffalo, going 48th overall to the Philadelphia Flyers before Parsons followed at 54th overall to Calgary.
While he has some competition atop the rankings in Americans Jake Oettinger (Boston University), Keith Petruzzelli (Muskegon, USHL), Prince Albert Raiders netminder Ian Scott and big Finnish product Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (HPK Jr.), DiPietro is likely to hear his name called inside the opening rounds this weekend.
Though he’s visibly the smallest of the elite goaltending prospects entering the weekend, the 6-foot tall DiPietro has never been one to make excuses, citing 6-foot-1 Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick as an inspiration.
“He’s a goaltender that utilizes his size properly and he has the ability to make the big save when needed.
“At the end of the day the only thing that matters is how many pucks crossed the goal line and how many wins you have. They never ask how, they ask how many.”
Vilardi and DiPietro are the latest in a line of recent prospects to enter the NHL Draft off a Mastercard Memorial Cup title.
Parsons was joined by London Knights teammates Olli Juolevi (5th overall, Vancouver), Matthew Tkachuk (6th overall, Calgary) and Max Jones (24th overall, Anaheim) in being selected early last summer in Buffalo.
Oshawa Generals overtime hero Anthony Cirelli (72nd overall, Tampa Bay) and teammate Mitchell Vande Sompel (82nd overall, NY Islanders) were both third round selections two years ago in Sunrise, Florida.
The 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings featured MVP Edgars Kulda who recorded four goals, three assists and seven points in five games. He scored and added two assists in Edmonton’s 6-3 championship final victory over the Guelph Storm and was chosen by the Arizona Coyotes in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia. Other prominent NHL Draft choices on the 2014 Oil Kings included Dallas Stars second round pick Brett Pollock and Coyotes fifth round pick Dysin Mayo.
The Halifax Mooseheads are the most recent QMJHL team to hoist the Memorial Cup, doing so in 2013 behind an MVP effort from eventual first overall NHL Draft pick Nathan MacKinnon. The Colorado Avalanche selection led the Mooseheads to their first ever Mastercard Memorial Cup title with seven goals, six assists and 13 points over four contests. Jonathan Drouin was chosen two picks later by the Tampa Bay Lightning at third overall, making the Mooseheads duo the fifth pair of teammates to ever be chosen together inside the opening three picks of the NHL Draft.
Other recent examples of players to become high NHL Draft picks following a Mastercard Memorial Cup title include Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers) and Nathan Beaulieu (Montreal Canadiens) of the Saint John Sea Dogs who went third and 17th overall respectively in 2011. The 2009 and 2010 Mastercard Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires had a number of high selections from their ranks including back-to-back tournament MVP Taylor Hall (1st overall 2010, Edmonton) as well as defencemen Cam Fowler (12th overall 2010, Anaheim) and Ryan Ellis (11th overall 2009, Nashville).