Auston Matthews was drafted first overall and essentially hand-picked to end a long Stanley Cup drought in Toronto. Connor McDavid was named the youngest captain in NHL history.
And yet it could be argued that no young player in the NHL coming into this season had a bigger burden of unfair and impossible demands than Jimmy Vesey. The 23-year-old was coming off a landslide Hobey Baker victory - awarded to the top NCAA hockey player - when he became, if not the best, then at least the most notable college free agent in quite some time. The possibility of picking up a quality prospect for free as well as a potential impact player on an entry-level contract made him a priority for all 30 NHL teams. An otherwise boring, news-barren August made him practically the sole source of content for the media, who understandably milked his free agency for all they could. Then came the backlash from fans, media, and players who were disappointed in his decision to not sign with their teams. All of this mixed together created hype and expectations that Vesey never had a shot at living up to.
It seems incredible, thus, that through 10 NHL games Vesey has managed to reach that impossible bar. His six goals leads the Rangers and ties him with Matthews and Patrik Laine for the rookie lead, while nine points places him third among rookies. However, one question qualifies all early season success, and it's especially true for rookies. Is it sustainable? Getting a definitive answer is impossible, but we can look at his body of work so far and get a good idea.
At five-on-five, Vesey has been on the ice for 118 Rangers shot attempts and 100 against him, good for a 54.1% shot attempts percentage (Corsi). So when Vesey is on the rink is tilted in the Rangers' favor. The next step would be in figuring out how much of this is actually his doing. As an example, Marc Staal put up solid shot attempt numbers during the 2013-2014 season, but reality was that Anton Stralman was doing much of the heavy lifting. It has shown since Stralman's departure. Is Vesey simply riding the wave of good teammates? Via Natural Stat Trick, here are the numbers for Vesey with and away from his most common line mates.
Note that "SA%" is short for Shot Attempts Percentage. The numbers here are favorable to Vesey. Quite a few players have a notable drop in on-ice shot attempts when taken away from Vesey, whereas Vesey is doing just fine himself. Only McDonagh does better away from Vesey than vice versa, and even then it's by a negligible amount.
This early in the season time-on-ice numbers are limited in sample size and therefore there is a lot of noise involved, but at a bare minimum he's not obviously holding anyone back. It's a safe bet that, at least through these 10 games, Vesey has been driving possession in the Rangers' favor.
But what about the goals themselves? Let's look at Vesey's six goals so far using Steve Valiquette's methodology for evaluating shot quality.
This is a clear example of a shot from a slot line pass, which is a high-percentage shot. They go in roughly one in every three shots, making it one of the best shots a team can generate.
A mid-percentage shot (screen) by Stepan creates a rebound, which leads to Nash making a slot line pass to Vesey. High-percentage shot, again.
This is a slot line carry. Like a slot line pass, it's a shot as a result of the puck cutting across the slot, which forces the goaltender to open up his body and leaves a number of holes to shoot at. Vesey chose to put the puck five-hole. Slot line carries are also high-percentage shots.
Again, Rick Nash sets up Vesey for the slot line pass. High percentage.
This one is a bit tricky, and more research needs to be conducted on this particular type of play. This would be what Valiquette classifies as a clear sighted shot. Bishop has clear vision of the puck and shooter and has time to set himself before the shot. However, Vesey is on his off-side and on the inner part of the faceoff circle. Furthermore, shots coming off of unexpected turnovers like this one can catch goaltenders off-guard. It's one that Ben Bishop stops fairly often and maybe would like back, but it's also far removed from being a laughably soft goal. It's a clear sighted shot, which is low percentage, but hovering very close to mid-percentage territory.
Vesey crashes the slot and fires off a shot quickly after receiving the pass from Derek Stepan. Jake Allen has virtually no time to set himself in-between moving with the pass and Vesey shooting. It's not technically a one-timer, but it's effectively the same and thus classified as one, making it a mid-percentage shot.
In sum, Vesey has scored on four high-percentage shots, one mid-percentage shot, and about as good of a low-percentage shot as there is. What stands out here, aside from the shot quality itself, is that most of these goals required some generous passing; only the slot line carry against Washington was really him generating the shot for himself. That is fine. These types of scoring chances require a great pass, but also require a player who knows how to get into positions to receive these types of passes. That Vesey is finding himself on the end of these passing plays isn't dumb luck. It's a talent.
Is Vesey's run of scoring sustainable? Well, no. Right now he's on pace for 49 goals, which he almost certainly is not finishing anywhere near this season. What definitely is not sustainable is his 33.3% shooting percentage; even elite scorers like Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos hover between 12%-17%.
But based on early signs, him finding the back of the net quite often isn't an anomaly. Vesey is driving possession when he's on the ice, which means he's helping create offense in general. Furthermore, his goals are coming off of legitimate scoring chances. This is not at all a case of flukey bounces and poor goaltending falsely padding his stats in a small sample size. Vesey knows how to get into positions for the types of plays that result in scoring chances, has a nose for the net, and owns an above-average release off his stick. As long as he's partnered with capable playmakers who complement his game, of which the Rangers have many, then there should be early optimism for Vesey's future as a consistent goal-scoring forward.