Jimmy Vesey is a Hobey Baker winner without a home
After an impressive senior season at Harvard University, Jimmy Vesey was named the Hobey Baker Award winner for Most Outstanding Player in NCAA hockey earlier this year. Vesey, named team captain as a senior, led the Crimson with 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 33 games and helped Harvard finish 10th in the NCAA after a first-round loss against Boston College in the NCAA tournament.
Vesey was instrumental in the revival of Harvard hockey as he scored a total of 144 points (80 goals, 66 assists) in his 128 college games. He also helped Harvard to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2015 and 2016, as well as an ECAC Conference Championship in 2015.
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It was the first time since 2006 that Harvard had that level of success in hockey, and Vesey was the driving force behind the success.
On top of all that success at the NCAA level, Vesey has also won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championships, and a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships.
So why hasn’t Vesey signed with an NHL club yet?
He was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but never signed an entry-level contract with the Predators. Nashville would eventually trade his rights to the Buffalo Sabres prior to this past June’s Entry Draft, but Vesey so far has failed to sign a deal with the Sabres.
Vesey becomes an NHL unrestricted free agent on August 15, and the Hobey Baker winner has some teams in mind that he would like to talk with. According to a report from Chris Peters of CBS Sports, Vesey and his people are most interested in talking with the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.
But just a few days ago, Vesey’s agent, Peter Donatelli, told TheAthletic.com’s Scott Powers that “Chicago will be on the list, but it shouldn’t be read as they’re ahead of anyone else.” Add into that, general manager Stan Bowman has traveled a handful of times to the Northeast to watch Vesey play over the last month, and it’s safe to say Chicago is on the radar.
So for fun, let’s say the Chicago Blackhawks are the frontrunner.
Is he ready for the NHL right away?
The biggest pitch that NHL teams are going to send Vesey’s way is that he will have a chance at a top-six forward spot right out of the gate. At 6-foot-3, 200-pounds, Vesey has the size already to handle the physicality that comes in the NHL, and at 23 years old, he’s physically matured.
Vesey will not be your typical NHL rookie, which is why teams that can afford him a top-six role, like Toronto, Buffalo, and Boston will be the most intriguing for him in August. But with the Chicago Blackhawks in the organizational transition that they are, a top-six forward spot for Vesey is a possibility. Four players are locked in to be in the Blackhawks’ top-six rotation: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov.
Yes, Marian Hossa has been on the right wing on the Blackhawks’ top line over the last few years, but at 37 years old, Hossa has lost a bit of his scoring touch. He remains one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL, but he would benefit from a lower-line role to allow him to play with less responsibilities game in and game out. Also, playing Hossa in a third-line type of role would allow him to stay fresher throughout the year by playing fewer minutes per game.
The other name mentioned to be a potential top-line forward alongside Toews is Richard Panik. An AHL player with the Toronto Marlies less than a year ago, Panik was acquired by the Blackhawks and transformed into one of the bigger surprises in the Blackhawks’ 2015-16 season.
His level of play late in the season and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs gave him the first shot at being the full-time left-wing on Chicago’s top line. But it is far from a given that Panik will be able to continue his level of play from the end of last season.
For Vesey, the opportunity to play alongside Toews, Hossa, Kane and the like would be hard to pass up and would be a pitch that many teams in the NHL can’t compare to. It would be a lot to ask of an NHL rookie to be a top-line player and keep up with Toews right out of the gate, but Panarin was paired with Kane all season in 2015-16 and ended up winning the Calder Trophy.
So it can be done.
Does Vesey have a future with the Blackhawks?
Outside of Vesey’s agent saying specifically that they want to hear from the Blackhawks on August 15, another sign that Vesey could make the decision to sign with Chicago is that the organization actually has the cap space (GASP) to sign him without the need for any Bowman magic.
On July 26, the Blackhawks and defenseman David Rundblad agreed to mutually terminate his contract. That meant Rundblad’s contract, which was going to count as $100,000 against the cap in the AHL, or if bought out would have been $133,333 and $183,333 against over the next two seasons, is now a big fat zero against the cap.
With $2.54 million in cap space and Vesey, at most, only costing Chicago $925,000 per year on an entry-level deal, his addition wouldn’t break the bank for the Blackhawks. Which has been an issue in Chicago over the last handful of years.
Granted, Vesey very well could go the route of Brandon Saad and become a high-quality top-line forward and fetch near $5-6 million a year at the end of his entry-level contract, but that is unknown and for the future Blackhawks to worry about.
If Vesey is to live up to his billing, and decides to sign with the Blackhawks, it would be difficult to not pencil in Chicago as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup next season.
So what do you think? What do you think Vesey will do once he becomes a free agent in August? Let us know in the comment section!