While Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and William Nylander’s feats are making news splashes around the hockey world, rookie Jimmy Vesey is quietly making his mark here in New York. It may not be big hockey news, but with his fifth goal of the season last night (as part of the Rangers’ 6-1 win over Tampa Bay), and six total points over nine games, Vesey now sits fifth among rookies in points for the young 2016-17 season. But, it is not just those numbers that should start bringing attention to Vesey. It is also the fact that he has a lower total ice time/game (15:26) than any of those statistically sitting above him, and he has the highest shot percentage among all the rookies in the league (31.3%).
So, Vesey’s name should be in the early conversation for best rookie of the year. But, it is understandable that he is not. With so much youth and excitement up in Toronto, and Laine’s belief (and statements) that he was the best player available in this past summer’s draft, the early Calder speculation has all focused north of the border. And Vesey has been somewhat (and temporarily) forgotten.
But it was not long ago that Vesey’s name was all over the hockey headlines. It was just last March, when Vesey let Nashville know that he was not going to sign with them after his Harvard graduation. Per the CBA, the Preds’ 2012 third-round draftee had the opportunity to pick his own NHL team after August 15, 2016. It is rare that a college player exercises that right, but the 2016 Hobey Baker winner wanted to determine where he would spend the next few years. And he publicly announced his intention to do so.
So sports news outlets everywhere were all over the story. All spring and summer, they covered the Vesey “goings on” and the speculated where he would wind up. The Predators wanted the drama over quickly, so before the June draft, they traded Vesey’s rights to Buffalo. The Sabres were hoping that the team’s up-and-coming status, as well as Vesey’s close friendship with roster star Jack Eichel, might sway the new Ivy League grad to sign there. But August 15th, the final date for Buffalo’s exclusive negotiations, came and went. And Buffalo was out of it.
More speculation arose; now it supposedly was down to Boston and the Rangers. By the time the Rangers signed Vesey on August 20th, we were all exhausted by the story. After all, there were quite a few former Hobey Baker winners who did not amount to much in the NHL. Who was this guy and was he worth all the fuss?
Vesey started to show us who he was almost immediately. The Rangers took him to Traverse City, in mid-September, for a prospect tournament, and Vesey promptly became the best player. He led the four-game tournament with five goals (including one game-winner), and was tied for first in points with seven. At age 23, Vesey looked like a man among boys on the ice (except his face, which still makes him look like a mid-teenager). He was the most impressive player I have ever seen in the Northern Michigan tournament.
Upon his return to New York, Vesey played much of the pre-season with fellow former collegian Kevin Hayes. Although it helped him transition to the professional game, it did not bring out the best in Vesey, who needed to be on a line where he could hang around the net. Currently, playing alongside Rick Nash and Derek Stepan, Vesey has been much more productive, being able to utilize both his speed and magic touch.
Chris Kreider is due back soon, and it is not clear how the lines will be reshuffled, but if Vesey is on a line with those that give him the opportunity, he has a real gift for finding the net. So, that is what all the fuss was about. And although he is not a part of the discussion yet, there is no question that Vesey has the potential to be the best rookie in the NHL this season.
It is important to remember, as we hear all the other names bandied around, that the race for the Calder Trophy is a marathon, not a sprint.