The X-factor: Gabe Vilardi has what it takes to make a difference in the playoffs

Photo credit:James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Connor Baldwin
8 days ago
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The 2024 NHL playoffs begin in just TWO days. Every day now you will start seeing playoff previews, in-depth summaries of each and every game, and maybe some people talking about who could be the possible x-factor on each team. The Winnipeg Jets have more depth with their forward group this year than in the past, and one of their new players who has made an impact this regular season is Gabriel (Gabe) Vilardi. With so many intriguing forwards on this roster, not enough people seem to be talking about the potential that Gabe Vilardi has to impact the Jets this playoffs.
Before I dive into several reasons why Gabe Vilardi could very well make a difference in the playoffs for the Jets, it’s important to understand why I’m calling him the X-factor on this Jets team. The term X-factor gets thrown around quite a lot, especially when it comes time to point out key players in upcoming playoff matchups. There are 2 official Oxford definitions for the term “X-factor”. The first one is “a noteworthy, special talent or quality”. This definition isn’t the preferred one when talking about sports players though, as I’ve seen the X-Factor term incorrectly used to describe someone who is clearly one of the best players on a team.
The second definition of “X-factor” is “a variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome”. That definition right there, should be 9 times out of 10, the one used to describe someone who is an X-factor. Gabe Vilardi fits that definition, and is why he should be the player to watch for to make an impact for the Jets roster in the upcoming playoffs.
Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Now to get into some numbers, because that’s one of the ways to back up a case for a player being the X-factor. Another part of choosing someone as the X-factor has to do with a “gut feeling” (more on that later), but you have to first look at some numbers to get an understanding as to where the value of Vilardi’s game lies within the team.
Gabe Vilardi was acquired last summer by the Jets as part of the trade that sent Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Los Angeles Kings. Vilardi has missed 35 games this season, due to two significant injuries, a sprained MCL and most recently an enlarged spleen. Despite this adversity, Vilardi has remained in a top 6 role on the Jets, most often on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor. In 46 games, Gabe Vilardi put up 21 goals and 14 assists for 35 points. Against the Colorado Avalanche, the Jets first round opponent, Vilardi scored 3 goals in 3 games this season.
Those numbers indicate a strong first season for Vilardi with the Jets, but you need to go a bit deeper in to some other analytics to see why Vilardi is the Jets X-factor this post-season. According to moneypuck.com, Vilardi ranks 1st on the Jets in goals per 60 minutes at 1.6. Vilardi also ranks 1st on the team in overall shooting percentage at 18.1%. Vilardi also ranks 4th on the Jets in points per 60 minutes at 2.67. A final important stat about Vilardi that you need to consider, according to hockey-reference.com is the fact that Vilardi ranks 1st on the team in percentage of shots taken that go on net, at 64.8%.
What do all these stats mean as a whole? They indicate that Gabe Vilardi is the guy who can be relied on to capitalize on his chances, which becomes ever so important in the playoffs. More often than not, you will see teams in the playoffs that are unsuccessful because of their inability to finish their scoring chances. Creating scoring chances is just the first step, but when you have someone like the Jets have in Gabe Vilardi, you can be confident that he will be there in the right place at the right time. Having someone who can take the right “kind” of shot is something that is always needed in scoring situations, and that describes what Gabe Vilardi does best.
If you’re wondering why I decided to look at Vilardi’s analytics within the Jets organization and not the entire league (or just of the playoff teams), it’s because I’m looking at who the JETS X-Factor is come playoff time. It doesn’t make sense to compare Vilardi’s numbers on the Jets to other players on other teams, since every team has their own unique style of play, which affects analytics across the board.
Now, going back to what I mentioned earlier about how picking the X-factor involves having a gut feeling, because that’s what makes your reasoning on picking the X-factor player stand out. When you look at Vilardi’s past playoff experience, he’s only played in 7 games for the Los Angeles Kings. But doesn’t mean Vilardi won’t be hungry to prove himself come playoff time. If Vilardi plays on a line with Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor, he will have every opportunity to play big minutes, and be on the ice to display his scoring ability in key moments of the game.
The gut feeling that I have with Gabe Vilardi is that he’s simply the type of player that you want to have on the ice in big moments. It’s something analytics and even the eye test can’t quantify, because it’s all about the player knowing what needs to be done to help his team. That being said, keep an eye on Vilardi these playoffs, as he is the Jets X-factor who can be the difference between failure and success for the Jets this post-season. Don’t tell me I didn’t tell you so!


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