BUFFALO, N.Y. - Growing up the son of immigrant parents, Gabriel Vilardi didn't need to look far to see what hard work and a good work ethic could deliver.
It was his work ethic which allowed the 2017 NHL draft prospect to bounce back from two separate injuries this season to lead his Windsor Spitfires team in scoring.
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"I think my parents taught me the value of hard work from an early age and I'm one of the hardest-working guys," said Vilardi, whose parents Natale Vilardi and Giovanna Siviglia immigrated from Reggio Calabria, Italy, to suburban Ontario. "I try to model my game like that: to win every battle, play every shift hard and hopefully success will come if you're working hard."
Last August during a final scrimmage prior to Canada's Under-18 team departing for the Ivan Hlinka tournament, Vilardi was the recipient of a knee-on-knee hit sidelining him six weeks. The injury forced him to miss Windsor's first five games.
Then in November, Vilardi was sidelined by appendicitis. The injuries limited the 17-year-old to 49 regular-season games in which he scored a team-leading 29 goals and 61 points.
"That's him being a pro on and off the ice," teammate Jeremiah Addison said. "That's just him going about doing the right stuff. He's had some injuries he's battled through, but I don't see it affecting him.
"Each time he steps on that ice, he's a pro and doing the right stuff off the ice - that's another example of that."
Vilardi, who took part in the NHL Scouting Combine last weekend, added seven assists in four games as the Windsor Spitfires won the Memorial Cup last month. The Kingston, Ontario native was named a tournament All-Star for his performance.
The 6-foot-3, 201-pound forward uses his size well. He's not afraid to get behind the opponent's net and battle for pucks. Vilardi also has excellent hands, knows how to find the open man and moves the puck well.
Projected as a top-six playmaking forward, Vilardi saw his ranking drop from third to fourth among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking. ISS Hockey has him ranked as the third-best prospect for this month's NHL draft, which takes place at Chicago's United Center June 23-24.
Moving forward, Vilardi knows exactly where he needs to improve to take the next step in his game. He has already spent summers working on his skating and this summer will be no different.
"I worked on it a lot. Going back to last summer, spent some time in Minnesota, looking forward to doing the same thing this summer, going to Minnesota again," Vilardi said. "I know that's the big area I need to improve on. I'm looking forward to working on it real hard this summer."
Having his brother, Francesco Vilardi, who is three years older, go through the process before him has been a huge advantage to the younger Vilardi. Francesco, 21, spent four seasons in the OHL before choosing to use the postsecondary scholarship provided by the Canadian Hockey League.
"I learned a lot from him just stick-handling with him in the basement, watching him play trying to model my game after him," Vilardi said. "Now obviously he's at Queen's [University] - turned out not the way he wanted it to, but he still helps me a lot, still talks to me all the time."
Because of the depth among the forward group in Windsor this season, coach Rocky Thompson moved Vilardi to the wing from his usual center spot in an effort to keep him among the Spits' top-six mix up front.
Though it was a difficult move initially, the adjustment could pay dividends when Vilardi makes the jump to pro hockey.
"It was tough at first, but I think once you get going, play a few games, you get used to it," he said. "I think it really helped me 'cause you never know once you move to the next level where you're going to slot into the team's lineup.
"I think I'm a natural centerman, but obviously going through it this year, I can play both now."
There's no question among scouts that Vilardi will one day be a regular at the NHL level, but that likely won't be next season as he continues to work on his quickness and power.
Despite the work ahead, Vilardi certainly has the right mindset idolizing New York Islanders captain John Tavares.
"I think he's great all over the ice, he's always making smart plays with the puck, you never really see him make mistakes too often," Vilardi said. "I think he's an all-round player, he can make plays off the rush, off the cycle - he does everything well.
"You've got to do the right things on and off the ice and then when you're on the ice, good things will happen, if you're doing the right things off the ice."