Vilardi Edging Closer To Return

Windsor Spitfires forward Gabe Vilardi looks to be taking big step towards getting back into game action.

He's been cleared for full contract practice as he continues to work through a weird back injury.

Vilardi got the all clear from doctors with the LA Kings.

"It's two more weeks of contact and then start playing after Christmas break."

He says the medical advice is to keep rehabing slow and steady.

"There is no need to rush anything," says Vilardi. "Ultimately, there was World Juniors I was kinda hoping for, but as I was saying, my goal is to play in the NHL next year, so if I'm rushing ... that could affect me long-term."

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Windsor Spitfires forward Gabe Vilardi is drafted 11th overall by the LA Kings in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft on June 23, 2017. (Photo courtesy LA Kings via Twitter)

While taking part in contact practices is a good step, it doesn't really change any timelines for his return.

"I mean there was never really a time table, so I mean kind of always have that hope in the back of your head, 'hopefully you get back in time to play for the World Juniors,'" says Vilardi. "Obviously, that's not going to happen now, so just got to look long term."

Vilardi has mixed feelings at this point in his recovery as he'll be missin ghte IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.

"I mean I'm happy, but I'm kind of upset. I think any kids' deam is to play in the NHL and that's obviously my first goal, but obviously at the same time you want to play in the World Juniors, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Vilardi was returned by the Kings to the Spitfires late in November and has been practicing with the team, but hasn't suited up just yet for Windsor.

— with files from Peter Langille