When the New York Rangers dealt Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres on Jul. 1, 2019 for a third round pick in the 2021 Draft, many were underwhelmed by the return. Of course, within an hour of that deal, reports emerged that the Rangers had signed unrestricted free agent Artemi Panarin. Vesey, as it turns out, was a cap casualty. By moving him to Buffalo, Jeff Gorton freed up $2.275 million in cap space.
We know what the Rangers got back when they dealt the Hobey Baker winner to Buffalo, but what exactly did they lose?
Jimmy Vesey is an average forward but he really pushes the puck to the net* at 5v5, so I like him. Penalty differential also very good.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 1, 2019
*both nets pic.twitter.com/Yejb72Y142
The Shooter, the Scorer
In his three years with the Rangers, Vesey established himself as a middle-six winger with a knack for scoring goals and drawing penalties, especially at even strength. Vesey averaged 16:03 TOI/GP last season — a career high — and finished the year with 35 points. A quick glance at his boxcar stats suggests that the Rangers might find themselves missing Vesey’s ability to bury pucks.
Vesey scored 16 goals as a rookie, 17 goals in the 2017-18 season, and 17 goals last season. That’s remarkably consistent for the first three seasons of a winger’s career — although, like many wingers who provide depth scoring, he could be quite streaky. He scored just once in the final 19 games of the 2018-19 season.
Over the last three seasons, Vesey scored 37 goals at 5-on-5 in 240 games with the Rangers. The only other Rangers skaters to eclipse that number were Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Michael Grabner. When we look at his scoring rate on 5-on-5 in that same window, Vesey’s 0.75 G/60 (goals per-hour) ranked fifth on the team among players who appeared in at least 100 games, just ahead of Pavel Buchnevich’s 0.73 G/60.
So, how did Vesey score his goals?
The winger averaged 6.78 shots per hour at 5-on-5, which ranked eighth among Rangers forwards who played in at least 19 games; Vesey’s iCF60 of 12.09 ranked sixth among that same group. As you can see in the chart below, Vesey’s bread and butter is using his 6-foot-3 frame to get chances from right on top of the crease.
If we look at the Rangers roster right now, restricted free agent Brendan Lemieux could help replace Vesey in that role. He’s two inches shorter than his former teammate, but 10 pounds heavier. Of course, before he can join his teammates in trying to replace Vesey’s depth scoring, Lemieux needs to sign a contract.
You might have noticed a similarity between Vesey and Buchnevich’s scoring rates in the previous section. They are also both wingers with three years of NHL experience, who skated as rookies together in 2016-17 — although Buchnevich is two years younger. However, they are drastically different players in regards to their impact and their overall value.
Last season, Buchnevich out-scored Vesey by three points despite playing in 17 fewer games. That, in and of itself, was eye-catching, but it is only the first few feet of the wide gap that exists between the value of the two wingers. As the chart below illustrates, Buchnevich is a more versatile offensive threat than Vesey. He’s also superior when it comes to getting the puck in the offensive zone and out of the defensive zone.
Vesey’s 61.24 CA60 last season was a hair better than Buchenvich’s 61.49 CA60, but the Rangers attempted a lot more shots when the Russian winger was on the ice. Buchnevich’s 54.1 CF60 dwarfed Vesey’s rate of 51.74. Chances are, that gap also had a lot to do with who they played the most hockey with last season.
Among Rangers forwards last season, Buchnevich shared the most ice time with Mika Zibanejad (265:58) and Chris Kreider (202:55); Vesey’s most common linemates were Brett Howden (359:25) and Ryan Strome (204:46). Needless to say, playing nearly 360 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey with Howden did little for Vesey’s shot share numbers. So, we should keep that in mind when we compare him to Buchnevich or any other forward.
Vesey and Buchnevich have never been praised for their defensive play, but the former averaged 1:17 of shorthanded TOI/GP last season. In terms of average ice time, Vesey was the Rangers’ sixth-most deployed forward on the penalty kill. Buchnevich, on the other hand, played just seven seconds of shorthanded hockey last year.
As it turns out, Vesey was pretty effective on the penalty kill, especially when compared to the rest of the Rangers’ forwards. However, the Rangers bled shots when he was on the ice at 5-on-5.
Vesey’s play away from the puck might be suspect, but he does excel at drawing penalties. All things considered, his knack for earning power plays is likely one of his greatest strengths.
Over the past two seasons, Vesey’s +10 penalty differential at 5-on-5 ranked third on the team behind only Buchnevich and Hayes. If we also include his rookie season, his +14 penalty differential at 5-on-5 over the last three years is the best on the Rangers. What’s interesting about this is that Vesey doesn’t seem to throw his body around or get hit at an exceptionally high rate. He simply has a knack for making referees raise blow their whistles.
Vesey is certainly an intriguing player, but hardly an irreplaceable one.
When he’s on the ice, both teams tend to get chances. Unfortunately for the Sabres, Vesey has a history of ending up in the red in that category more often than not. That could change if he clicks with some new linemates in Buffalo, but it’s important to remember that he’s 26 and will be 27 in May. He’s not a kid anymore. At this juncture, there is only so much room left for his game to grow.
Because the Rangers signed Vesey as a free agent, he was, essentially, found money. However, no team should make a habit of squandering such assets. The fact that the Rangers didn’t draft him has no bearing on Vesey’s value, however the same cannot be said for his age and his lack of versatility. With that being said, he should be a lock for 17 goals if he stays healthy. The Sabres are getting a serviceable winger who might crack the 40-point mark if all goes well. If that does happen, the Sabres will need to make a tough call with the pending unrestricted free agent.
Maybe Jason Botterill will be able to flip him at the deadline for more than he gave up to get him. Maybe not. Time will tell.
While it’s true that the Rangers didn’t get much for Vesey, Gorton got some of the cap space he desperately needed for Panarin, while opening up a middle-six roster spot for a young winger. All in all, it was a sound decision.