There are a lot of reasons to already think that Jimmy Vesey is a prospect worth signing. He’s a 6’3 forward who has been above a point per game pace in his past two college seasons, and was a .66ppg player in his freshman and sophomore years. The guy scores goals and teams need to goals to win. That’s science.
The thing that gives some pause is that Vesey is going to be 23 by the time the next season starts and that easily places him on the older side of prospect. The past couple of years of dominating the NCAA seem more like an expectation rather than an accomplishment, and when the most recent players in this situation (Mike Reilly and Justin Schultz) did little to live up to the fanfare around their acquisitions it’s understandable why many have a mood that’s either more cautious about Vesey or to some extent they are straight up uninterested.
It’s because of those criticisms that Vesey is worth diving into a bit deeper and going beyond simply the “he’s a good young player, so let’s get him.” Standard Players Contracts are valuable. Even a $950k cap hit (or a $3.75M bonus laden deal) in the NHL is something you don’t walk into without doing due diligence. So let’s do that on Vesey.
One of the main criticisms is that his first two seasons in the NCAA were not at an elite level that is often associated with future stars in the NHL. First let’s understand what those teams were generally doing…
So, we can see that Vesey was playing on some absolute garbage teams. The argument can be made that if he was a truly a special player, Vesey would have made them better than that, but to that there are three points…
- Vesey is winger, very rarely is a team going to live and die by the performance of even a really good winger.
- Vesey was third on his team in scoring during his freshman year, and led the team in scoring his sophomore one. He continued to be the team’s top scorer the rest of his career. That’s not bad
- I don’t think Vesey is an elite, special player. This isn’t about tracking down the next Martin St. Louis, this is about finding someone who can potentially play in a team’s top six, but definitely in a team’s top nine in a very short time.
It’s also worth noting that his 2014-15 and 2015-16 Crimson teams were not particularly strong beyond himself either, but Vesey did do a bit more heavy lifting and Harvard had some solid goaltending to support that.
(darkest blue = Senior Year, medium = Junior year, lightest blue = sophomore year)
Comparing Vesey’s success to that of other recent NCAA players provides some context to what he might be at the NHL level. The recent gold standard for NCAA forward turned pro is probably Johnny Gaudreau, who is much smaller, but also much faster than Vesey. Gaudreau was a point per game player throughout his college career and went pro after his junior year. Johnny’s 64 point rookie season is likely not something that is attainable for Vesey, but they do play a very different style of hockey.
It’s worth considering the impact of conferences in the NCAA and the associated NHLe with them. Vesey’s Harvard team is the ECAC which has a much lower NHLe (.23) than others which generally range from .32-.41. The other comparables all come from leagues with more desirable equivalencies, though it’s worth noting that Harvard typically carries a tougher schedule than the rest of the ECAC because of it’s Boston geography and associated local rivalry match-ups.
A bit further back in time is former Leafs draftee Jimmy Hayes. Hayes had a slow start to his college career that isn’t uncommon due to the depth at Boston College, but by his sophomore year he was close to a point per game, but never actually achieved that in the NCAA. After his junior year Hayes went pro, and had 9 points in his first 31 games for the Blackhawks. Four years later he’s close to being a 30 point player playing on Boston’s third line. Hayes is 6’5 and his size has afforded him opportunities that Vesey may not have, but may be a more reasonable comparison for Vesey.
Reilly Smith also left after his junior year and at a fairly young age to boot. Smith had his numbers peak in his sophomore season and after not putting much together in Dallas, he found a way to benefit from the talent in Boston and has taken that success to Florida. Smith might be the most similar in style and production what is expected of Vesey, and a found wallet 40-50 point guy is a pretty good thing.
In an effort to include some NHL success stories of guys who went the full 4 years, we’ll look at Flyers winger Matt Read who spent four years at Bemidji State. Read is a somewhat unspectacular NHLer, but a serviceable third line guy after some initial flashes in his rookie year. He became a point per game player in sophomore season, but never put together any high end years that would rival Vesey’s. Again, if Read’s 30 point NHL seasons are the low end of what you can expect for Vesey, he’s still worth the gamble.
Carl Hagelin is another senior turned pro after graduating from the University of Michigan. Hagelin’s speed is his calling card and helps keep him employed. His offense is similar to Read’s and they both have a much more complete game than Vesey at this point as I’m sure no one is recruiting Jimmy for his play in his own end. Still, if Vesey can match Hagelin’s offense he is still worth the ELC and Vesey does have a more impressive offensive resume from his college years.
Of course, we have to draw comparisons to a couple of Leafs, Tyler Bozak (who had two strong seasons in Denver) and Zach Hyman who went the distance in Michigan. Bozak’s freshman and sophomore years were stronger than Vesey’s and he did it as a center, not on the wing. There may be something hilarious about a team like the Leafs pursuing Jimmy Vesey so heavily at a time when they can’t wait to get rid of Tyler Bozak. That being said, there are different standards for wingers, and gaining seven years of prime in the process isn’t a bad thing. If Bozak played the wing and didn’t make horrible costume decisions every Halloween he probably wouldn’t receive the same level of scorn.
Hyman benefited significantly from being Dylan Larkin’s center and that explains why there was a great senior year and not a whole lot to speak of before that. He has been finding some success as a bottom six player with the Leafs with 6 points in his first 14 games, and his time with the Marlies supports that he can be a solid pro. Honestly, if Vesey works out as well as Hyman did I’d probably be pretty happy.
Vesey has received a lot of love from TSN (Craig Button) and THN (Staff in obsolete paper tech) with TSN considering him the 8th best NHL affiliated prospect and The Hockey News considering him the 14th best. Unfortunately, I’m typically more inclined to agree with Corey Pronman (paywall) who had Vesey as his 98th best prospect heading into this season. Pronman praises Vesey as a talented offensive talent but has concerns about his skating and play away from the puck, both being significant things that could bite a player at the NHL level after enjoying relative comfort up until now in his hockey career.
All that considered, you’re still roughly looking at a young, healthy Joffrey Lupul that you aren’t paying $5.25M a season to, and that seems pretty decent. Hockey Prospectus took a look at Vesey following his junior year and identified his puck skills as his greatest asset…
“This is not just his hands, but his decisions of what to do with the puck, when to pass, when to circle back, etc. His hands are quick, giving him the ability to swipe a puck form a lazy or unsuspecting opponent. He will often cycle between the half wall and behind the red line and is very proficient at finding open teammates when behind the net. He is comfortable carrying the puck through the neutral zone and is skilled at zone entries. His vision is close to elite. Even from the corner, he can spot a teammate through traffic and hit him on the tape with a sharp pass. He will dangle as well, although that skill will be less of a weapon in the NHL. Vesey employs a long reach to help him protect pucks.”
Why He’s Worth the Gamble
The main case for Vesey could be timing. Jimmy Vesey is about to enter the free agent on August 15th and likely be viewed as a top six forward on most NHL clubs. Vesey is limited by what can be offered in an entry level contract and that’s pretty friendly to most teams that are pushed up against a salary cap that either didn’t go up, or received a very modest bump. That’s only a small selling point compared to the expansion draft factor.
Here is the opportunity for an NHL team to add a legitimate top nine forward that isn’t going to require any protection in the expansion draft. Vesey isn’t just a found wallet, he’s a found wallet with a credit card that wasn’t cancelled. Heading into a year where teams are going to be panicked about what they are going to have to lose, here’s a chance to cut their loses ahead of time and with the best possible alternative, a good, cheap, young player that is potentially just entering his prime.
August 15th is a long ways off, and teams are bound to be impatient. There also has to be somewhat of a desire for Nashville to not lose Vesey for nothing. On the other side of things, there has to be a desire for Vesey to get a chance to attend his new team’s prospect camp following the draft and have a summer plan created for him by the organization that will be employing him. The long and short of it here is that I don’t think we’ll be waiting until August.
A team believing they have an inside track might want to make a deal now for the same benefits that Vesey would receive from an early resolution. Whether it’s an average NHLer with a contract you are no longer fond of, or a C-level prospect who you don’t want on a SPC anymore, potentially it’s worth making some inquires to David Poile, who I’m willing to bet wants this to go away as soon as possible.
While disappointment from Poile is understandable, as a decent prospect is potentially walking for nothing, but it seems that a cooler head will eventually prevail and something will be done earlier. NHL teams use every tool at their disposal for leverage against the players, it’s bad form to be this petty in a rare instance where I player has the ability to control his fate.
From a Leafs Perspective…
Vesey to Toronto is a very real thing that could happen, as Elliotte Friedman laid out in his 30 Thoughts column today…
“It’s now about the Boston Bruins (closest to his home) and the Toronto Maple Leafs. One exec offered to bet a steak dinner on it. He took the Maple Leafs and gave me the field. “
After shouting found wallet over and over again it’s important to take this as anything but a no brainer. Looking at the wingers in the organization the Leafs have van Riemsdyk, Lupul, Michalek and Komarov as their established veterans. You also have Greening, who you don’t mind pushing down the lineup and Brooks Laich seems like he’ll be on the wing next season as well.
Since any offer Vesey receives from a team is going to be the maximum entry level deal, Vesey is likely looking for a commitment of a certain amount of ice time per night, and definitely wanting an NHL gig. The Leafs certainly have the ability to offer that, but when you consider that the youth movement already sees Soshnikov, Brown, Kapanen, Leipsic, and possibly Leivo challenging for jobs next season, the Leafs are already 11 deep on NHL wingers. Throw in that Mitch Marner is going to get a solid look as well, and you’ve already got 12 guys competing for 8 spots, with Tobias Lindberg, Andreas Johnson, Jeremy Bracco, and Dmytro Timashov coming up the depth chart fast. I’d hate to portray this as a bad problem to have, or that any of these guys can’t be moved, but this certainly gives pause to how aggressively one will pursue a 23 year old prospect, especially considering that van Riemsdyk and arguably Marner are the only two top line talents in the group.
On the other hand, he’s still that found wallet, someone you are giving up nothing for and have the potential to add to the future core of the team. While it’s easy to draw comparisons to Tyler Bozak and Justin Schultz, it’s important to look at how those situations were grossly mismanaged. Both the Leafs and the Oilers had the opportunity to pull the plug on those players at times when they were moveable assets or even walk away from them when their entry level deals expired. Bozak’s rookie season showed a kid having unsustainable success who most teams would have been thrilled to add to their lineups. Rather than sell high, the Leafs held and drove his value into the ground. With the depth the Leafs have on the wing, Vesey is potentially a hot commodity that you want to put on the market in a post expansion draft world to see what roster holes you can address.
The reality is that Vesey is probably decent, not spectacular. He’ll be a very serviceable NHL forward that is more likely a middle six journeyman than the next Johnny Gaudreau. The Leafs are deep on the wing, but they are deep with question marks that are remarkably similar to Vesey in a lot of ways, just a little younger. Vesey is a chance to stay committed to the youth movement while providing some competition and additional development time for his peers. He’s a safety net against the expansion draft, and for the next few years he’ll be relatively affordable unless he hits his bonuses, which if he does, you’ve got a solid player on your hands, so that’s pretty nice too. Missing out on Vesey wouldn’t be the end of the world, but he’s at least worth putting an August 15th reminder in your calendar for.