The Hobey Baker Award winner may be a Chicago Blackhawk yet
I promise this isn’t another post to tout the Chicago Blackhawks’ need for cheap forward help ahead of the 2016-17 season. However, a very interesting option is presenting itself in that department, and it’s someone many Blackhawks fans probably would’ve dismissed as a possibility just a month or so ago.
Jimmy Vesey is a name that has been floating around hockey circles ever since he opted not to sign this year with the Nashville Predators, who selected Vesey in the 2012 NHL Draft’s third round. A few weeks ago, Vesey’s negotiating rights were traded to Buffalo, with whom Vesey had his first legitimate discussion today.
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Why all this noise around a third-round pick, you might ask? And what does it have to do with the Chicago Blackhawks, since Buffalo owns the negotiating rights to Vesey? We’ll answer those questions in order.
First, Vesey isn’t just any third-round selection. He was taken, as I mentioned, in 2012. Since then, Vesey has become a bonafide college star and a strong possibility to crack many an NHL lineup in his first year of professional hockey.
After being drafted, Vesey played a full four seasons of college hockey at Harvard. After potting 18 points in 27 games his freshman season and 22 more in 31 games sophomore year, Vesey exploded as an offensive talent.
He notched 58 points in 37 games his junior season, and another 46 points in 33 games his senior season while wearing the captain’s “C.” The latter output resulted in Vesey becoming the 35th Hobey Baker Award winner, given each year to college hockey’s top player. It was won in the last three seasons by Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau and … uh … Blackhawks prospect Drew LeBlanc.
Hockey’s Future describes the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Vesey as “a big winger who is a skilled passer and sees the game well. He is more than just an up-and-down player as he possesses skill and smarts that make him a dangerous player in the offensive zone.” Hockey’s Future notes Vesey’s defensive game could use a little development, but that he has great potential as a two-way NHL forward.
This has drawn the attention of teams like the Sabres (obviously) as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. Vesey has previously said he’d prefer to stay in the Northeast, where he is originally from and where he played college hockey, to begin his NHL career.
Those last two points really don’t indicate a lot of hope for the Blackhawks landing him though, right? The Blackhawks noticeably tend to draw to smaller, quicker forwards, and Chicago isn’t a Northeast city.
Ah, but this would discount occasionally-crazy Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman, who showed up at Foxboro Sports Center earlier this week to watch Vesey play. And if Bowman is in attendance to see a player, no matter at what level that athlete is playing, it means the Blackhawks have at least a semblance of chance to acquire that player.
Vesey has not yet signed with the Sabres, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15. A couple things could happen between now and then — Vesey could be swayed by the Sabres and sign with them, or he could wait until Aug. 15 to make an NHL team decision. Since Buffalo owns Vesey’s negotiating rights, he’s only going to be able to talk to them until Aug. 15, though he and his representatives can certainly set up meetings with other teams for as soon as Vesey becomes a UFA.
The Blackhawks have made a concerted effort in recent seasons to ink college players, especially with the promise of immediate playing time. The most recent examples we’ve seen are with Kyle Baun and Nick Schmaltz, with the latter a good possibility to crack the Blackhawks’ opening night roster this year.
Vesey would be in the same boat, and offering him immediate playing time wouldn’t be a reach. The Blackhawks are still looking to fill holes in their lineup, and they’ll be looking to a number of youngsters to compete for the spots. Vesey’s NHL prospects project as superior to most of those currently in the Blackhawks’ farm system. He could be a left winger on the same line as Marian Hossa, for instance.
Vesey would cost the entry-level NHL deal of $925,000, which is in the neighborhood of what the team would hope to spend on a forward at this point. And if the Blackhawks come knocking and promise him not only playing time, but also bonuses and, of course, a shot at the Stanley Cup (which is a far more legitimate offer in Chicago than in Buffalo, Toronto or Boston at this moment), it could be enough to knock Vesey from his Northeast preferred stance.
The Blackhawks don’t necessarily have an inside track or advantage on acquiring Vesey. The Sabres would be the odds-on favorites now considering they have his negotiating rights. But if Vesey decides not to sign with Buffalo before Aug. 15, the Blackhawks should be considered just as big of contenders for his services as anyone else in the hunt.