Some of the best trades made by Plymouth Whalers general manager Mike Vellucci happen quietly, in the summer and under the radar.
Andy Bathgate, Alex Aleardi and Carter Sandlak are examples. All three helped the Whalers in their own way.
Add center Francesco Vilardi to the list of Vellucci’s summer under-the-radar acquisitions that have made a positive impact.
Originally selected by Sudbury in the third round (56th overall) of the 2012 OHL Priority Selection, Vilardi played one game for the Wolves last season before moving on to the Kingston Voyageurs on the Ontario Junior A League.
And while Vellucci made the deal, an assist goes to Plymouth scout Dave McParlan, based out of Kingston and watched Vilardi last season. Scouts often speak up for players out of their specific region. That’s what McParlan did for Vilardi.
Fast forward to the present and Vilardi is among the OHL’s rookie leaders in scoring with 10 goals and 22 assists for 32 points in 59 games. Just as important, he was named to the OHL’s All-Academic team for January after pulling down close to a 4.0 average at the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.
“Things have been going well,” Vilardi said recently with a quick smile. “I’ve been working hard both on the ice and off the ice. It’s just a bonus to get an academic award. My parents always said to work hard on the ice and work just as hard off the ice, so I’m trying to do that here.”
One essential trait learned as a Whaler is effective time management. Vilardi seems to taking to multi-tasking as well as he wins a faceoff.
“The homework can be pretty tough on the road, especially being on the bus for a couple of hours (sometimes) you don’t feel like doing any homework,” he said. “I just try to do my best. When I have some time or the bus or some down time, I try to get my homework done. Some days, it’s pretty tough.”
Vilardi was asked if he has a favorite subject.
“I’m not sure I have a favorite, but I don’t mind business and I like working with money,” Vilardi said. “School can be rough. It was tough the first week – a big transition. Back home (Kingston, ON), my school’s got maybe 1,000 kids, but here, it’s more like 6,000 or 7,000. It’s a big change, and not knowing anyone except for the boys (Plymouth players). It’s a little different. But now, we’re used to it and it’s going well.
“You get to know people and the more you stay around, the more people you know and the better it gets and it becomes easier. We aren’t treated special, but we are treated very well and with respect. With all of the homework and the road trips, the teachers are very understanding. We really appreciate it.”
Currently playing on a line with Connor Chatham and Matt Mistele, Vilardi is taking advantage of the opportunity and his line has picked up the pace since Christmas. The line has 27 points combined in February – Chatham with 11, Mistele 9 and Vilardi 7, though the first 10 games of the month.
“I just come in with the mind-set of working hard,” Vilardi said. “So far, it’s been going well. Playing with those two makes my job easier. ‘Chats’ is big and works hard. ‘Misty’s’ just a special player. So I just try to play my game with those two and things come.”
Young players might notice that while Vilardi’s not the biggest player on the ice, he’s never shy about going into the corners and rooting around in the gritty areas of the ice.
“I try not to think about that,” Vilardi said about going one-on-one against bigger players. “I try to work hard and play my game.”
Vilardi’s game has been pretty good so far.
The Whalers are home over the weekend, hosting Barrie on Friday and Windsor on Saturday. Both games start at 7:05 pm at Compuware Arena.