We’re in the middle of August, which is usually a “dead zone” for hockey news. Yet, this is not like most summers. Patrick Roy up and quit his job; Las Vegas is deciding on a team name, the World Cup of Hockey is rather close, and then there’s The Newest Hottest Free Agent (After Midnight Tonight): Jimmy Vesey. I was not terribly interested in Vesey until I kept seeing reports like this one from ESPN’s Joe McDonald that the New Jersey Devils are apparently on his shortlist. I’ve seen rumors from Twitter accounts that don’t deserve mention here, and while I know it’s ESPN, it carries more weight than somebody who likes to tweet stuff. So let’s go over all things Vesey just before he officially becomes a free agent.
Why is Jimmy Vesey the Newest Hottest Free Agent this Summer?
The story of Jimmy Vesey’s path to professional hockey - which has not even hit the pros at all yet - is a winding one. Vesey was drafted in 2012 in the third round by the Nashville Predators. He finished up his junior career with the South Shore Kings of the EJHL and committed to Harvard. Two years into Harvard, Vesey went from being a regular forward to a regular point machine with 32 goals and 26 assists in 37 games in 2014-15. He was a big reason why the Crimson were not doormats. He received many accolades, and they kept coming in his senior season in 2015-16. He did win the Hobey Baker Memorial Award for being the most outstanding NCAA player in this past season. While Chris Dilks argued that Kyle Connor should have won it, the point remains: Vesey was doing really well for Harvard.
In February, Bryant Fair had a good overview of how Vesey was performing at On the Forecheck. (Aside: It makes mention of Vesey averaging five shots per game, which is very impressive.) There was reason for a Predators fan to be excited for his impending graduation and would want the team to sign him. However, there were rumblings even then that he may not sign with the team and instead test free agency. This was confirmed by the end of March, as cited in this On the Forecheck post by Alex Daugherty. Ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft, Nashville successfully traded Vesey’s rights to Buffalo for a third round pick. As noted in this post by Mark Harris at On the Forecheck, Vesey still intended on testing the market after August 15. And he has. After that day - today - Vesey becomes an unrestricted free agent. He would still have to sign an entry level contract, but he can sign with whoever he likes.
Unlike most of the free agents that were still available up to the past few days like Antoine Vermette or Radim Vrbata, Vesey is 23 and he’s a ready for the pro game after a very successful college career. Young, talented like Vesey do not come along all that often and they do not leave potential years on the table to play out their draft rights through college. Combined with the public news of hitting free agency; therefore, there’s a lot of interest in him as opposed to the other college players whose team’s rights will expire after midnight.
Who is Jimmy Vesey?
According to Elite Prospects, Vesey is a 6’1”, 195 pound left winger with a left handed shot. He’s 23 and he’s coming out of college with four years with the Harvard Crimson. Vesey also represented the United States at the 2013 World Junior Championships and played on the senior team in the 2015 IIHF World Championships. He also won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award last season.
Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports put together this short scouting profile on the winger. Here is a short snippet that I think really adds to why
Vesey has good size, and plays a power forward game. He is a quick skater, with good acceleration and top end speed. Vesey has a powerful stride which allows him to fight through checks and drive to the front of the net. When he gets there, he has the soft hands to finish in close. He can also stand in front of the net, provide a screen and get tip-ins and rebounds. From further out, Vesey has a hard and accurate shot, that he gets off quickly. He protects the puck extremely well, with good stickhandling, and uses his body as a shield to play the cycle game. Vesey is well balanced and hard to knock off the puck or beat in a board battle.
Vesey has a plenty of offensive tools and Kerr notes that he’s no slouch in his own end of the rink. Kerr really likes Vesey and states that he’s ready to play in the NHL right away. Again, under-25 NHL-ready forwards aren’t common in unrestricted free agency. That just furthers the hype.
At the same time, not all that glitters is gold. Ryan Lambert at Puck Daddy frequently follows the college game. He noted in his recent post at Puck Daddy that Vesey was older than recent college standouts Kevin Hayes and Johnny Gaudreau. That matters because it means that we’re closer to the point where what we see from Vesey now is about what a team will get for the next few seasons. While Lambert does not doubt he’s a NHL player, he’s careful to point out that he’s not necessarily the Next Big Thing for a team’s roster. To that end, it’s safer to project he’ll be a part of a team’s top three lines and maybe not be a second-line winger for all teams, although that depends on the team’s depth.
What’s the Rumor Again?
Reigning Hobey Baker-winner Jimmy Vesey, 23, will become a free agent at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, and there is a short list of teams he will meet with before intending to sign a deal by week's end.
Vesey and his agents, Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli, will conduct interviews with teams in Boston on Tuesday and Wednesday. A decision is expected by the end of business hours on Friday at the latest, sources tell ESPN.com.
The New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs are strong contenders as Vesey, who played for Harvard, prepares for free agency, sources said. The Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Islanders and Boston Bruins are also on that list.
The Sabres, who hold his rights until midnight Monday, are still in play.
So there will be plenty of competition, including the one team that could have and probably did make their case to him up until now: Buffalo. That the Devils are considered to be “strong contenders” is very interesting given that their local rivals are in the mix along with two Stanley Cup contenders (Pittsburgh, who just won it; Chicago remains a strong team) and Vesey’s local squad, Boston.
Again, Vesey can only sign an entry level contract, which has a maximum salary of $925,000. This decision won’t come down to money so much as it would come down to what interests Vesey the most. I’m guessing he would want to go somewhere where he can reliably play. Perhaps that’s the Devils’ angle.
Why Would New Jersey Want Him?
The Devils would be obtaining another young NHL winger. The Devils are still rebuilding and a player like Vesey would really help in that regard. Should his offensive game - particularly his volume shooting - translate to the NHL level, that would be quite useful. Even if he ends up being a solid third line winger, that’s a spot in the lineup that Ray Shero does not have to go and try to fill later. It would also be a win from an optics standpoint. The Devils being able to get the rights to a contested player shows that the organization is a place where players would want to go. I do not know whether or not that means so much to other or future free agents, but I do know it is something fans appreciate.
Why Would New Jersey Not Want Him?
The biggest issue is that Vesey is a left-handed left winger. While the Devils could use offensive talent, left wing is arguably the most filled at the moment. New Jersey’s biggest move this summer was trading Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall, who is a left winger. Mike Cammalleri was one of the team’s top offensive weapons before his injury last season; he played left wing. Reid Boucher and Joseph Blandisi both impressed in their call ups last season and they’ve done so at left wing. Patrik Elias, who may or may not return to the Devils, primarily played left wing. If the selling point for Vesey is playing time, then some changes will have to be made regarding who plays where. Or Vesey realizes that there’s not that much room and would rather go to a place where he could play more easily.
There’s no rule that a right wing have to have right handed shots. If I recall correctly, I think Cammalleri used to play right wing at some point in his career. So he could slide over. Alternatively, it could be proposed that Boucher or Blandisi move to the offwing positions. (And perhaps someone gets traded if Vesey is acquired.) Of course, if Vesey could do it, then that would be helpful as it really would support the argument that Vesey would get playing time in New Jersey right away. However, I question the idea of putting players in spots where they may not be so effective just to get them on the ice. I agree that players who line up in a position may not necessarily stay there when the game is in motion, but somebody is likely going to have to be on that side of the ice when the play goes in either direction. I would prefer it if it was someone who is used to doing so. Boucher and Blandisi could very well be competing for the same spot in the lineup that Vesey may take anyway. Why add a third person to that mix?
Again, this issue is moot if someone else or Vesey can play on the right side. But it’s an issue that caused me to be lukewarm on the notion of getting Vesey to begin with. I think the “fit” would be an issue that would keep from the Devils from committing too much to the Vesey Sweepstakes. So much so that I don’t think it makes a lot of sense at the moment for the Devils to get him. Now, if this signing does happen and it leads to a trade or some other shift in the lineup, then it would make some more sense. On its own, not so much in my eyes.
Are There Other Options?
Free agency is pretty much slim pickings at this point. Here’s a list of available UFA wingers at General Fanager and there’s no one there that would really qualify as anything more than depth. Center is a little better with Jiri Hudler and Cody Hodgson continuing to be a free agent. However, there’s no indication the Devils are interested in any of these players other than Elias. Outside of these Vesey rumors, short of a tryout contract, I think the Devils are done until training camp.
CapFriendly did tweet out a list today of other college players who are going to become free agents at the same time Vesey does. I don’t know how many of them are worth looking at, though. But if the Devils don’t end up convincing Vesey to sign with them or they don’t want him, those are the other options among players in Vesey’s situation.
Do You Want Him?
In about an hour from now, Vesey becomes an unrestricted free agent. Hopefully this post explains who he is, why he’s a big deal, and why the Devils would and would not want him. Do you want him on the Devils? If so, why? If not, why not? Who do you think he should sign with and who do you think he will sign with? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Vesey in the comments. Thank you for reading.