“NCAA free agents have become the most overrated and over-hyped asset in hockey,” an NHL scout said to me at the 2016 draft over breakfast.
“I’m not saying they aren’t good players, but teams treat them like they are going to be stars. They get into bidding wars and pay them like they are top-three draft picks. It’s crazy,” he said.
Jimmy Vesey is officially a free agent tomorrow and many teams want to sign the 23-year-old. He went undrafted in 2011, and then the Predators selected him 66th overall in 2012. He has spent the past four seasons honing his skills with Harvard, but he elected not to sign with the Predators. They traded his rights to the Buffalo Sabres on June 20th for the 76th overall pick in the 2016 draft.
The Sabres have yet to sign him, and starting at 10 p.m MDT tonight the Maple Leafs, Rangers, Devils, Blackhawks and Bruins (the rumoured teams with the best chance so sign him) will be able to “officially” talk to him about a contract.
How good is he, and is he worth the courtship?
Time will tell if he’s worth it, but when you look at Kevin Hayes, Justin Schultz and Mike Reilly — recent NCAA players who elected not to sign with the team who drafted them and became UFAs — it might be wise to temper your expectations.
Vesey is a winger, and it is easier to break into the NHL there than on the blueline like Schultz and Reilly. I’d make a friendly wager he’ll be better than Hayes, but the fun question is how good will he be in the NHL?
Vesey is a late bloomer. He was bypassed in his first draft year before the Preds took him in 2012. He’s spent four years at Harvard and his first two were very average, before he exploded in seasons three and four.
Points totals are just one aspect of the game, of course, but if you expect him to be a top-six forward in the NHL he better have good numbers in NCAA, and he did. He might become the first one to live up to all the hype.
TSN’s Craig Button shared his scouting report on Vesey.
- He’s a very well rounded player. He plays physical, not in the way Milan Lucic does, but he’s good in body-on-body battles, good along the boards and physically he can make space for himself on the ice.
- A really good skater. He has good hands. He is both a playmaker and a shooter. He can score in tight and he’s a very good passer under sticks and through skates.
- He’s really smart, I think that’s his best attribute. He adapts to circumstances on the ice. He knows when to pass, and where to go to receive a pass. His “inter play” with others and in the game is very good.
- He’s not flashy, but he has tremendous substance to his game. He’s a really solid all-around player. He is smart enough so he’ll be able to play with highly skilled players. He’ll give as much as he takes from them when he plays with them.
- I think he can come right in and be a contributor to an NHL team.
Button really likes Vesey, but he cautioned anyone who is expecting massive production right away. The Artemri Panarin’s of the NHL world are rare.
- After watching Panarin’s success in Chicago and the opportunity head coach Joel Quennevill gave him, I could see Vesey leaning towards the Blackhawks. He could play with Toews, while Panarin stays with Kane. That could be a great landing spot for Vesey.
- Jack Eichel and Vesey are very close, and even though the Sabres haven’t signed him yet, once he talks to other teams he might think Buffalo is still the best fit. Keep in mind, Steven Stamkos (I’m not comparing Vesey to Stamkos as a player, FYI, just their UFA situations) spoke to other teams, and still signed with Tampa. Vesey might just want to hear the pitches of the other organizations. A well-placed source told me Stamkos’ opinion on Toronto changed after he met with them.
- It will be intriguing to watch Vesey’s success. If he has instant success, I believe it will only ramp up the over-hyping of NCAA UFAs by some NHL franchises. I think you will find some quality players via the NCAA, but according to many scouts I’ve spoken with it seems too many franchises end up chasing them with unrealistic expectations. I hope Vesey goes to an organization with a plan where he can succeed, and not be given too much responsibility too soon.
- The Anaheim Ducks signed Antoine Vermette to a two-year deal today worth $1.75 million/year. That makes them better than they were yesterday, and makes the Pacific division even harder for the Oilers.
- The Coyotes signed Radim Vrbata to a one-year deal with a $1 million base, but with some performance bonuses as well. Vrbata is 35 years old and is eligible for a bonus-laden contract, in case you are wondering. The Coyotes still haven’t re-signed Tobias Reider, so maybe Vrbata gives them some depth, but he also gives them another veteran to help with a very young group of forwards. Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak will push for a roster spot in training camp. If the Oilers are going to make the playoffs they will have to be better than the Coyotes. I don’t see both of them making it, and signing a 13-goal scorer last year, and a 63-point player two years ago for $1 million is a good value bet by them.
- I spoke with Kevin Woodley of In Goal Magazine today and he was on the ice with five NHL goalies. “None of them have the new gear, none have ordered it and they think they won’t have to,” said Woodley. It seems there is a chance the new slim line pants could still be in place before the start of the season, but not the chest protectors and arms. This will not look good on the NHL.
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