Last summer, the New York Rangers signed coveted free agent Jimmy Vesey. The 23-year-old Hobey Baker Award winner decided against signing with the team that drafted him (the Nashville Predators in 2012), so his rights were subsequently traded to the Buffalo Sabres.
When the Sabres could not sign Vesey to his entry-level deal, he became an unrestricted free agent when his rights expired, giving the Rangers opportunity to capitalize on a team’s inability to sign their draft pick, as they did with Kevin Hayes when he chose not to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.
When Vesey ultimately chose to sign with the Rangers, the expectations were high for the driven forward from Harvard. The winger was known for his offensive capabilities, earning 24 goals in 33 games in his last season with the Crimson.
After signing a two-year, $7.55 million entry-level contract ($925,000 cap hit, $3.775 million average annual value that includes $92,500 in signing bonuses and $2.85 million in performance bonuses), Vesey made his NHL debut in the Rangers’ first game of the season on October 13. He scored his first NHL goal in the Rangers’ third game of the season (against the San Jose Sharks), and followed that performance with two goals just two games later against the Washington Capitals.
Through the start of the season, he continued to demonstrate his offensive talents, with a goal and an assist (two games after his two-goal performance in Washington) against his hometown Bruins. Another two games later, Vesey found the scoresheet again with a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning, then three points (a goal and two assists) against the St. Louis Blues. As the season progressed, the rookie’s performance tapered off after his strong start. He ended the regular season with 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 80 regular season games.
Of his 27 points, 19 were scored at 5-on-5 (1.21 points per 60) – 11 goals, eight assists. Sixteen of those points were primary points (1.02 primary points per 60). The remaining eight of those 27 points were scored on the power play, five of which were power play goals (tied for the second most on the team with Zuccarello).
In his rookie season, Vesey was featured in a number of line combinations – ranging from 223 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash to 2.25 minutes with J.T. Miller and Nash. Some of these line combinations were even on the fourth line. As Vesey went through his inevitable rookie slump after his offensive start, he was moved to a lesser role.
Playing on so many different lines does not help a rookie gain consistency, but Vesey still gave a glimpse of the player he can become. While he may not have had the strongest offensive generation nor suppression in the regular season, he still showed his skills in a number of other areas. For example, Vesey demonstrated the ability to play a physical game (62 hits at 5-on-5, which ranked fifth on offense). He also accumulated the fourth most blocked shots (36) on offense, along with the third-highest number of takeaways (43).
After the regular season concluded, Vesey made his debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He played in all 12 of the Rangers’ postseason games and earned five points (one goal, four assists). All five points were scored at 5-on-5, equivalent to 1.82 points per 60 (which ranked fourth on the team) and 1.09 primary points per 60. Although he did not hit or block many shots in the playoffs, he did lead the team with 10 takeaways.
Vesey with the assist on Skjei's goal pic.twitter.com/N4t7vMs2Ne
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Unlike in the regular season, Vesey had consistent linemates in the playoffs. He spent 26.67 (at 5-on-5) on a line with Zibanejad and Nash and 103.54 with Stepan and Nash. In fact, no other line combination played as much as Stepan, Vesey, and Nash did (the next highest 5-on-5 ice time for a line combination was 55.85).
The combination of Vesey, Stepan and Nash had a strong playoff performance – they led all of the Rangers’ lines in their shot attempts for (65.48 Corsi for per 60) and suppressed many against (59.69 Corsi against per 60, the third-lowest of the 10 line combinations used in the playoffs).
Looking at Vesey in the playoffs, he was a key part of the Rangers’ offense. His postseason highlights include a high 50.15 Corsi for percentage (the third highest on the team), 10.54 scoring chances for per 60, and a 2.52 expected goals for per 60.
Vesey was an inexpensive top-six forward on Ranger team consistently in a cap crunch. Overall, Vesey proved to be a valuable addition to New York, showing glimpses of his potential throughout the season and postseason. Moving forward, the key for the Rangers is to be consistent in their development of him – refining his two-way play, but not at the detriment of his offensive potential, and allowing him to demonstrate his physicality when necessary. If his rookie season was indicative of anything, it was that Vesey can grow into a valuable asset in New York.
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