Jimmy Vesey’s number is 17, which represents his career high in goals, a mark he hit twice while playing with the New York Rangers.
Now, 17 is not an eye-popping number, but it is a respectable number of goals. 17 goals would have been good enough for fifth on last year’s Maple Leafs team. It would have been good enough for eighth on the 2018/2019 Leafs, ahead of Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau. Last year, it would have edged out the likes of Brock Boeser, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Mitch Marner to name a few. So, no, while 17 goals the kind of production that can, say, make a player like William Nylander expendable, it’s still a more than acceptable contribution coming from one of your middle six wingers.
More @DarrenDreger on @Leafs_Lunch: "Had Toronto landed Jimmy Vesey, I would think Nylander probably would have been gone by now."
— Leafs Lunch (@LeafsLunch1050) November 29, 2016
Herein, however, lies the issue. Jimmy Vesey did not score 17 goals in 2019/2020. He didn’t even come particularly close. As a member of the Buffalo Sabres, Jimmy Vesey finished his season with a total of 9 goals, failing to reach double digits for the first time in his NHL career.
When looking to identify the cause for Vesey’s drop off in production once he arrived in Buffalo, you come away with a lot of conflicting answers. Sure, he was afforded a great opportunity to produce, being stapled to Jack Eichel’s wing for most of his season, but he also missed a large chunk of time due to injury. Yes, his power play time was decreased dramatically compared to his time in New York, but Vesey has produced most of his goals at even strength since arriving in the NHL, with 32 of his 34 goals scored between 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 (his back-to-back 17 goal campaigns) coming at even strength (27 at 5v5) and only 2 coming with a man advantage. Even with the down year in Buffalo, he still did the vast majority of his scoring (8 of his 9 goals) at 5v5.
The only remaining possible answer is that Vesey was entrusted more as a trigger man on those weaker New York Rangers squads than he was on the playoff hopeful Buffalo Sabres (I know, I know, I snickered too.) But even if you think that’s the case, the numbers don’t back it up. In three years with the Rangers, Vesey had 325 shots at 5v5 in 240 games played, averaging roughly over a shot per game (1.35) in that time. In Buffalo, this number decreases, but not by a whole lot, with Vesey firing 84 5v5 shots on goal in 64 games (1.31.)
So it wasn’t a change in powerplay usage, it wasn’t due to a decrease in quality of linemates, and it wasn’t due to a decline in shot volume. That leaves us with with our old friend shooting percentage regression.
At no point during Jimmy Vesey’s time with the New York Rangers did he shoot below 11% at 5v5, hitting 12.5% and 11.3% in each of his 17 goal seasons. In his lone season in Buffalo, his 5v5 shooting percentage dropped to 9.5%. “Luck” is often time considered a dirty word where sports are concerned, but in the case of Jimmy Vesey, it seems to be the most likely culprit.
Given the nature of the shortened season, 17 is likely to remain Jimmy Vesey’s career high. However, should his shooting regress back to his career norm, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to believe it could have been challenged under normal circumstances. Where Vesey factors in to the Toronto lineup is obviously yet to be seen, but given his history of NHL production, it would not be overly shocking if one of the more under-discussed signings of the offseason plays huge dividends for a team that was desperate for depth scoring in 2012/2020.