Jimmy Vesey: Could Nashville’s Loss Be Toronto’s Gain???
When it comes to the NHL Entry Draft, most scouts will admit that, outside of a handful of kids, it really is a bit of a crap shoot.
With most prospects getting drafted at 18 or 19 years of age, it is very difficult to project where those players will be in 3-5 years— which represents the typical timeline before a prospect is ready to be a contributing player at the NHL level.
While most of the future NHL talent comes from the first two rounds of the Draft, there are occasions where prospects escape the eyes of the “experts”, finding themselves dropping into the later rounds where some lucky NHL club reaps the rewards of excellent scouting or plain old good fortune!
Some of the biggest steals of the Draft in NHL history include, Pavel Datsyuk— 171st overall, Daniel Alfredsson— 133rd overall, Henrik Zetterberg— 210th overall, Henrik Lundqvist— 205th overall and Dustin Byfuglien— who went 245th overall in the eighth round!
While some of the top future talent drops in the draft, there are also a number of examples of kids that fail to get drafted making it to the NHL or even emerging as stars. Some of the best undrafted players in NHL history include, Adam Oates, Peter Statsny, Dino Ciccarelli, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour.
Point is, as much as the scouts seem to have the prospect pool figured out, there are always a few diamonds in the rough that emerge over time, which is why the NHL continues to have seven rounds of drafting.
Originally drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round (66th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Jimmy (AKA “Jack”) Vesey looks to have become exactly that— a diamond in the rough.
Playing for Harvard University in the ECAC league (NCAA), Vesey has put together an impressive career at the College level.
That said, Vesey did not start out as a top prospect and nothing has come easy for him.
As a point of reference, The Hockey News publishes it’s top 50 prospects pool in their “Future Watch” issue each summer.
One year after being drafted, Vesey did not appear on that top-50 list, but The Hockey News did include him on Nashville’s top-10 Prospects list, ranking him at number eight, calling the 6’1”, 195 pound, power forward— “arguably the Predators’ best pure offensive prospect”.
The skinny on Vesey at that time was that, while a gifted scorer, his skating, physical play and defensive game were in need of work and, as such, his overall ranking was hurt.
After a couple of impressive seasons in the NCAA, Vesey made his way up the Predators top-ten, ranking fourth on the Predators future watch, but still failing to crack The Hockey News’ top-50.
Scouts noted his improved play, but there were still concerns about his physical fitness and, like many young players, his two-way game, while improving, still needed polishing.
In The Hockey News’ 2015 Future Watch Issue, Author David Boclair had the following comments about Vesey—
“There’s never been a question about his (Vesey’s) ability to produce, but he started this season with a 21-game point streak and has been at or near the top of the NCAA in points per game. He mixes the instincts of his Father, Jim, who was a big-time scorer in the IHL and AHL during the 1990’s, with a determination to score. Vesey has improved his skating and conditioning, which has allowed him to play in all situations. His game has evolved to the point he could forgo his senior college year”.
While Vesey was putting up good numbers at the NCAA level, the jury was still out on his overall abilities and, to some extent, whether or not he would be able to develop the complete game needed to be a top-six power forward at the NHL level.
As it turned out, Vesey (an astute student who clearly understands the value of an education) chose to play out his final year of college hockey rather than sign a contract with the Predators. What that means is, should he fail to sign a contract with the Nashville this summer, Vesey will become a free agent and thus have the right to sign with any NHL team he chooses.
Fast forward to The Hockey News’ 2016 edition of Future Watch and you will find that Vesey has climbed both Nashville’s and the overall Future Watch rankings, sitting as the Predators top prospect and coming in at 14th overall.
What is The Hockey News saying about Vesey now?
Author David Boclair describes Vesey as, “…he can remain productive when he is the focus of the opposition’s defense. He has been among college leaders in goals and points and has ignored opposing players’ attempts to get him off his game. Off the ice— at the suggestion of Nashville’s support staff— he has taken a pro approach to a strict diet, training, etc., and has reaped the benefits”.
From Hockey’s Future— “Vesey is projected to be a strong-two way forward with offensive elements to his game”…”Vesey is a big winger who is a skilled passer and sees the game well. He is more than just an up-and-down player as he possesses skill and smarts that make him a dangerous player in the offensive zone. Vesey does not shy away from the physical game but could be more active in that area. His defensive zone coverage is inconsistent at times.
By heading back to College and embracing a healthy lifestyle away from the rink, Vesey has seen his game grow considerably to the point that he is now regarded as an NHL-ready player.
Vesey, now 22 years of age, has been among the College leaders in both goals and assists. His skating has improved and at 6’3” and 205 pounds, he has filled out nicely.
Through 123 games played at the NCAA level, Vesey has registered a total of 77 goals, 62 assist (139 points) for a points per game average of 1.13 PPG. His 2014-15 effort saw him post totals of 32 goals, 26 assists, 58 points through 37 games played, culminating in a Hobey Baker Award nomination (Jack Eichel won the award).
To put Vesey’s numbers into perspective, last summers second overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Jack Eichel, registered 26 goals, 45 assists, 71 points through 40 games played with Boston University last season. That’s not far off where Eichel was, albeit, Eichel was only 18 years of age when he pulled off those numbers.
While we would agree that Vesey looks to be an excellent prospect, there are still holes in his game (physical prowess, average defense). Vesey will likely join a long line of college prospects that have come into the NHL under enormous praise. Some of them work out, some of them do not meet/exceed expectations.
For every Jake Gardiner, Tyler Bozak (not stars with the Maple Leafs, but good NHL players) Mike Reilly (holding his own with the Minnesota Wild in his first NHL season), Dylan Larkin (an emerging star with the Detroit Red Wings) and Johnny Gaudreau (a rising star with the Calgary Flames), there are also plenty of flops like Matt Gilroy, Christian Hanson, Matt Frattin, and the rapidly declining, Justin Schultz.
All I am saying is, while it is all well and good that Vesey is being viewed as a virtual “can’t-miss” NHL player, we all need to dial our expectations back a bit until such time as he proves he can play at the NHL level.
The jump from Junior, Europe and/or the NCAA to the NHL can be murder on prospects. Vesey will not be immune to the struggles that go with playing in the NHL and, in the wrong situation, he could just as easily fail as succeed.
So, how do the Maple Leafs enter the conversation?
Throughout Vesey’s tenure with the University of Harvard he has chosen to forego signing a contract with the Predators, causing numerous sources to question his loyalty to the team that drafted him.
As we said earlier in the article, should Vesey not sign with the Predators this summer, he will become a unrestricted free agent— free to sign with any NHL team he chooses, including, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Numerous articles have linked Vesey to Toronto, and with good reason.
First, while hardly a deal breaker, Vesey’s younger brother, Nolan (19), was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round (158th overall) of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. While not nearly the high-end talent that Jimmy looks to be, Nolan has NHL size (6’2”, 210 pounds) and looks to project as a solid bottom-six player with some grit and jam.
Well, there is the small matter of the Toronto Maple Leafs hiring of Jim Vesey (Jimmy and Nolan’s father) as an amateur scout last year. Adding Vesey Sr. to the Maple Leafs organization has supplied further food for thought that the Leafs may be stacking the deck in hopes of increasing their odds of signing Jimmy to a contract should he chose to become a UFA this summer.
Will having drafted his younger brother and employing his Father be enough to persuade Jimmy Vesey to join the Maple Leafs? Perhaps. Perhaps, not.
What could/should persuade Vesey to sign with Toronto is the fact that the Maple Leafs look to be a team on the rise. The Leafs employ one of the best coaches in the NHL (Mike Babcock), employ one of the best general managers in NHL history (Lou Lamoriello), are run by Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan and have some of the games most exciting prospects making their way to the NHL.
For the first time in more than a decade, Toronto is a up and coming team. For some players, to be a part of that rise, is very enticing. When the team is losing, Toronto can be a tough place to play. When the team is winning (admittedly not often over the past 50 years) Toronto fans will treat the team like gold and it’s players like Gods— who doesn’t want to be part of that?
Another reason for Vesey to join the Maple Leafs? Playing time.
With several veterans already making their way out of town and with others clearly on their way out, there will be roster spots opening up in Toronto’s lineup this summer, which means Vesey has a legitimate opportunity to earn a spot on Toronto’s first or second line as a power forward.
With names like William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov, James van Reimsdyk and perhaps Auston Matthews (should the Maple Leafs win this summers Draft Lottery), Vesey would have a plethora of young talent to develop alongside with.
The Maple Leafs have a long list of recent UFA signings out of the NCAA. Could they add Vesey to the list this summer? Only time will tell, but when you look at all the rumors and connect all the dots, the Maple Leafs would seem to be a great place for him to land, family ties or no family ties.