by John Duncan (@FrontsFocus)
April 7th is a big day in the lives of many Ontario hockey players that were born in 1996. Many of these players will be hitting the refresh buttons on their computers to find out which OHL team will be drafting them. One of those won't be Francesco Vilardi of the Greater Kingston Minor Midget Frontenacs.
Admitting that he is a little nervous, but excited, about the OHL Priority Selection, an "on-line" draft, which gives each OHL team a short period of time to select players, electronically. Vilardi says that he will stay away from his computer on draft day, and await a call from his agent, instead.
Vilardi is described by his coach, Mike Fiset, as a special player who lead his league in scoring, tallying 34 goals and 23 assists for 57 points in 36 regular season games. He possesses great speed, and can anticipate the play exceptionally well, and has an OHL shot already. Fiset also pointed out that he was very durable, as he played in every game of a grueling season, an attribute which is very desirable to OHL teams.
Francesco was born in Italy, but moved to Canada at the age of two. Soccer was his favourite sport early in life, but he quickly changed to hockey. He says he played two years of house league, followed by a year of B hockey. He started playing AAA hockey at about age 9.
Francesco admires Ryan Callahan, the captain of the New York Rangers, for his leadership abilities, and his compete level, as a smaller player in the NHL. Vilardi is listed at 5'10" and 177 pounds.
Vilardi's commitment to improve has involved spending the last 3 summers away from home, in Oakville, Ontario to train. Strength and conditioning training along with daily "on ice" training has allowed Vilardi to develop his game. Clearly he understands the hard work that it takes to make it as a hockey player.
Francesco played 3 games for the Kingston Voyageurs of the OJHL at the end of his Minor Midget season, and tallied 2 goals and 2 assists.
Francesco was selected to attend the OHL Combine in Mississauga, Ontario. 16 goaltenders and 80 skaters from across Ontario were invited to attend. He says that it was a "great experience" where they were "treated like kings". The event was sponsored by Under Armour and Gatorade and Vilardi appreciated the "free stuff."
Francesco's captain for the past two seasons was defenseman, Graeme Brown. Graeme is expected to be selected in the 2nd Round on Saturday morning. Like Francesco, Graeme has been interviewed by 15 of the 20 OHL teams, so there is obviously plenty of interest in Graeme, as well.
According to coach Fiset, Graeme is a "gamer, who competes hard until the end of the game". Graeme "just loves to play the game", and possesses "tremendous leadership abilities, and a great ability to anticipate the play", something which "comes naturally to Graeme." He just hates to loose, and has worked very hard to develop his skating ability, and his shot.
Graeme was born and raised in nearby Gananoque, Ontario, and is the youngest of three brothers. This is probably where he learned how to compete. Graeme played with older players when he played in Gananoque, and started to play AAA in Kingston in Minor PeeWee.
Graeme has trained for the past three summers with Fine Line in Kingston alongside NHLers John Erskine, of the Washington Capitals, Bryan Allen, of the Carolina Hurricanes, and London Knight, and World Jr. defenseman, Scott Harrington. The thing that all of these players have in common is that they are big, stay at home, defensemen. When asked who he admired, and tried to emulate, his answer was former New Jersey Devil, shut down defenseman, Scott Stevens. Graeme admires his leadership, and his rugged, no nonsense approach, and his ability to hit hard.
When asked what he needed to work on, he talked about needing to "pack on a few pounds" and learning to take the body more, in order to develop into a "rugged, shut down, type defenseman." He also has the potential to "chip in" offensively, as well, with his speed, and his OHL ready shot.
OHL Director of Central Scouting, Darrell Woodley has very high praise for Graeme, calling him one of the "one of the draft's smoothest skating defenseman, who makes it look effortless and easy." He goes on to say that Graeme has a "skill set to impact a game offensively whether its by making a tape to tape stretch pass, or quarterbacking the powerplay or jumping up in the rush and capitalizing on scoring chances."
Graeme admits that he is nervous about the upcoming draft, but would like his potential new coaches to know that he would be honoured to be drafted by their organization and will work extremely hard every day in preparation for every game.
Another member of the Greater Kingston Minor Midget Frontenacs expected to be drafted in the second round is defenseman Kevin Spinozzi. Kevin was born in Granby, Quebec, and has 3 sisters. His dad coaches pro hockey in France, where Kevin spent last hockey season playing.
Living with a billet family wouldn't phase Kevin, as he already did, at age 14, when he played two and a half hours north of Paris, where his father coached. When asked to compare the level of hockey, Kevin told me that he played in a league with 17 and 18 year olds, at an athletic academy.
Coach Fiset described Spinozzi as a "big defenseman, with a mean streak, who competes hard on every shift." Kevin "prepares himself extremely well for every situation." He is listed at 6'1" and 195 lbs.
Kevin described himself as a "tough defenseman, willing to go into the dirty areas to compete for the puck." He is willing to "sacrifice his body, to do what it takes to win."
Kevin, too, skates well, and possesses a very good shot. He lead the defensemen on the team with 8 goals and 12 assists in 32 regular season games.
Kevin trains with his dad in the "off season" in and around the Montreal area. He said that his dad has taught him how to work hard every day to improve, and the commitment that it takes to be a "pro." Kevin is represented by former Montreal Canadien, Gilles Lupien, a multiple Stanley Cup winner.
Kevin says he really wants to play in the OHL, as he believes that it is the best development league in Canada. He says that he is looking forward to spending a quiet Saturday morning with all of his family around him, including his dad.
Coach Mike Fiset expects a number of other players from his team to be drafted on Saturday, as well. Zachary Emelifeonwu was second in team scoring, and is described by Fiset as a "diamond in the rough". He says he is a "bit of a project" who, when he plays physically, can be a dominant force. I've read where Zachary could be drafted in the 5th round.
Others players who could possibly be drafted according to Fiset, are Cody Macrae, Cole Langfield, Adam Alcorn, and Cole Busschaert.
If all of these players are drafted, it would make 8 overall, surpassing the recent record of six in 2005, and 2007 (including Taylor Hall).
Will this be the best ever draft class of the Greater Kingston Minor Midget Frontenacs? Time will tell.
All of the players had high praise for coach Mike Fiset. They talked about how prepared they all felt, and how he taught them to be good teammates, and to compete hard for each other.
This is Mike's third stint as Head Coach of the Minor Midgets. He was asked to step in this season, as last year's coach, Colin Birkas, moved up to coach the Kingston Voyageurs. Fiset coached at RMC for 5 years, and with Kirk Muller, at Queen's University, as well. He was the coach the last time Greater Kingston had 6 drafted players, including Taylor Hall, Jordan Mayer (1st rounders) and Corey Bureau (2nd round pick).
Clearly, Fiset, a former OHL defenseman, with the Kingston Canadians, Raiders, and briefly with North Bay, knows what it takes to get to the next level and was able to communicate that to many of his players this season. When asked if he would consider coaching at a higher level, he didn't rule it out, saying if the "right opportunity" came along, he would consider it.
Perhaps Fiset will get his shot to coach at a higher level, but the spotlight will be on his Minor Midget players this Saturday for the OHL Priority Selection. Expect to see Francesco Vilardi, Graeme Brown, and Kevin Spinozzi to be among the first 40 or 50 players chosen, and several of their teammates to be drafted, as well.