It seems like it was just yesterday when the New York Rangers won the “Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes” and signed the former captain of the Harvard Crimson. But here we are, two years into Vesey’s NHL career, and at the end of his first NHL contract.
Vesey’s age is an important factor to keep in mind when we ask ourselves what we wanted (and needed) to see from him in 2017-18. He was, after all, born just five weeks after center Mika Zibanejad. So, what should we have expected from a 24-year-old NHL sophomore after seeing him score 16 goals in his rookie season?
Vesey entered the 2017-18 season as a depth winger with a penchant for scoring greasy goals around the net. He was expected to provide scoring depth and develop into a more complete player who could be relied upon to play two-way hockey in the bottom-six.
Vesey’s role changed in the last quarter of the season after the Rangers hit that toothy reef we call reality and began to jettison as many assets as possible. Following that exodus head coach Alain Vigneault moved the NHL sophomore up in the lineup to fill the void left by more talented forwards.
Vesey’s most frequent linemates during 5-on-5 hockey were David Desharnais and Mats Zuccarello. He scored 14 goals and registered eight primary assists during 5-on-5 hockey; both improvements over the numbers that he put up as a rookie. The 6-foot-3 winger also put a few more shots on net than he did in 2016-17.
Vesey finished the season with a 15.83 total game score (5-on-5) — an improvement on his 12.03 game score as a rookie. To put his game score this season into context: Vesey ranked seventh among the Rangers’ forwards who spent the entire season in New York.
The needle on Vesey’s possession numbers also moved in the right direction this season. His relative CF percentage improved from -4.27 to -1.16; an encouraging sign considering how much ice time he shared with Desharnais. His relative expected goals for percentage (Rel xGF%) improved from -5.83 (second-worst on the 2016-17 Rangers’ roster) to -1.64. Those numbers may look encouraging, but Vesey’s -1.64 Rel xGF% ranked seventh among the Rangers forwards who spent the entire season in New York.
The Rangers had holes to fill in the lineup after trading away Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, and J.T. Miller and Vesey was a natural candidate to move up the depth chart. Before the deadline Vesey averaged 13:51 TOI per game. After the February 26 deadline his ice time jumped up to 15:52. Interestingly enough, Vesey ranked third among Rangers’ forwards in 5-on-5 ice time post-deadline — he saw more 5-on-5 ice time than Kevin Hayes.
Vesey’s best month in terms of production was March. He scored five goals — including two game-winners — and picked up two assists in 15 games in that first month after the deadline. Of course, three of those five goals came on March 12 when Vesey dropped a hat trick on the Carolina Hurricanes.
Vesey’s power play production dipped in his second season. He scored just one power play goal in 2017-18 after scoring five in his rookie season. As discouraging as that may be, it was also hardly surprising; Vesey had a 31.25 shooting percentage on the power play as a rookie.
As for the penalty kill, Vesey had less shorthanded ice time than Adam Cracknell had total ice time in his four games with the Rangers. In other words, there’s nothing to talk about.
Vesey has the toolbox to bang home rebounds, tip shots, and finish great passes, but he is still a very inconsistent player. Like so many other depth wingers, Vesey has a tendency to disappear in games. He also remains unremarkable outside of the offensive zone and seems like he struggles to create his own offense.
“I think I had ups and downs again, but I think I’ve had a solid year,” said towards the end of the regular season. “I guess I’m more mature, trying to figure out how to hold on to it a little more. I’ve shown more confidence, especially as of late, with the puck, trying to make a move or beat guys one-on-one.”
When Vigneault did move Vesey up in the lineup, the holes in his game were conspicuous against tougher competition. But that should not count as a strike against him. Vesey provided the Rangers with the depth offense that he was expected to. Unfortunately, he didn’t show many signs of improvement from what we saw in 2016-17.
It seems that some of us remain genuinely excited about Vesey’s potential, while the rest of us feel that he has already emerged from his cocoon.