With Nashville Predators GM David Poile acquiring Ryan Johansen, the number one center he had been looking for throughout his career, it's time for him to turn to the second most important item on his list: signing Jimmy Vesey.
Vesey of the Harvard Crimson is one of the Predators' top prospects and when all things are said and done he could very well be a better player than highly ranked Kevin Fiala or Juuse Saros. I say that because, unlike the aforementioned two players, Vesey seems to be fairly guaranteed to be a solid top six player in the NHL and could even be a top line-calibre player. It is important to the future playoff and Stanley Cup hopes of the Predators that they continue to add depth and, from that perspective, bringing in a talent like Vesey would be huge.
From an age, size and skill perspective, Jimmy Vesey could be a key contributor to the Predators lines and identity and a monster in the playoffs for years to come. The first thing you'll see with Vesey is his 6'3" and 210 pound frame. The second thing you'll see is his speed. He's a mammoth in the corners and does not often lose a battle for the puck. That ability to get to pucks quickly and win battles, as well as his shooting mentality (he averages just under 5 shots a game for Harvard) will be important for Peter Laviolette's possession and shot-based system.
Along with those things, Vesey is a natural goal scorer (74 goals in 118 games in his college career,) has developed great playmaking ability, has a great hockey sense, and plays a 200 foot game. With those things he can absolutely take over a game at the college level. He breaks up a ton of plays in the defensive zone and will carry the puck up the ice through the opposition to set up a teammate with a filthy pass or score a highlight reel goal. He won't be as effective at that in the NHL due to the skill level of the opposition but you get the point: he's one heck of a hockey player.
When Vesey will be eligible to sign:
In order to keep his college eligibility, Vesey will not be able to sign until Harvard is eliminated from the NCAA championship. With that in mind, here is the timeline in which he will be eligible to sign:
Harvard's season ends on February 27 when they play St. Lawrence. They will no doubt make it to the Regionals tournament which starts on March 25 and ends on the 27. If Harvard gets eliminated on the first day of the tournament, that will make Vesey eligible to sign and play with the Predators before Saturday, March 26 when they take on Columbus Blue Jackets. They will have eight games remaining at that point.
If Harvard makes it through the Regional tournament they will play in the Frozen Four which lasts from April 7-9. If Harvard is eliminated on April 7, Vesey will be eligible to sign and play with the Predators before their final game of the season against the Dallas Stars on Saturday, April 9. If not, Vesey will be playing his first game in a Predators uniform in the playoffs; assuming they get in.
If Vesey elects not to sign with the Predators in the spring he will hit free agency in mid-August and anyone (including the Predators) will have an opportunity to sign him.
So, regardless of when Jimmy Vesey signs he will have little or no time to get acclimated to the speed of the NHL game before the playoffs start. There are plenty of examples of player who have come in and hit the ground running when put into that scenario (Chris Kreider) but there is also the chance Vesey takes time to get into the swing of things; like it did when he played in the World Championships. That is probably the least of Poile's worries, though, as it will be up to Vesey as to whether or not he will ever suit up in a Nashville Predators uniform.
Why he will sign with the Predators:
Vesey was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 2012 NHL entry draft, 66th overall in the third round. Between that time and now he has attended four development camps and the Predators have given him four seasons worth of guidance in order to allow him to be the best player he can possibly be. Vesey went from being drafted in his second year of draft eligibility to becoming one of the better prospects in the entire NHL and a Hobey Baker finalist with a World Junior Championship gold medal, a World Championship bronze medal, and an ECAC player of the year award.
While it took a lot of work on Vesey's part to get to that point, you bet your bottom dollar that the Predators were significantly influential in his development. It would be a slap in the face to the Nashville Predators' organization that spent a lot of time, money, and resources to get him to that point if Vesey didn't at least agree to play out his entry level contract in Nashville. This work the Predators have put in with Vesey is something he acknowledged in an interview with The Pipeline Show.
"I have a great relationship with Predators," says Vesey. "They've worked pretty extensively with me over the four years since I've been drafted. They're at a lot of my games and have given me a lot of feedback. So I have a great relationship with them and the organization but right now I'm focusing on Harvard. Once my season ends I'll kind of sit back and see if the Predators are the right fit."
The trade for Ryan Johansen could also play a big role in signing Vesey, as On the Forecheck's Kris Martel has pointed out.
Not only does the trade signal the Predators are all in and will do anything to have a better chance at a championship, it also could give Vesey an opportunity to play with one of the top centers in the league, as stated by David Poile on 102.5 the game.
"As we've told him all along, including as recently as probably this past week, is that we've got a spot for him. I can see him starting right out either on Johansen's line or probably Mike Fisher's line. I can say that because Ribeiro and Forsberg have been playing pretty good together for the last year, year and a half. But we would really like to give him a try."
If the Nashville Predators are in the playoffs, it could be hard for Vesey to pass up potentially playing with that caliber of player on a team that has at least a fighting chance to do some damage in the playoffs.
Why he won't sign with the Predators:
While the Johansen trade will help the Predators' chances in signing Vesey in some ways it could also indirectly hurt them in others. With Johansen pushing Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher back one spot in the lineup, Calle Jarnkrok got moved to wing and the depth at wing (like the center depth) increased. Before that time it would have been pretty easy to just bring Vesey into the fold and plug him in but now it will be more difficult.
Vesey will likely have to battle for a spot with the likes of Austin Watson, Miikka Salomaki, and Viktor Arvidsson which—while he should beat out those aforementioned players—will not leave him with the guaranteed spot that Poile promised him. In the playoffs the best players will play because a championship takes precedent over one single player. In that regard, it will come down to Vesey believing he has the ability to win the spot over one of the current rostered players.
If the Nashville Predators do not make the playoffs this season they may have a harder time convincing Vesey to sign in the spring instead of hitting free agency in the fall. At that point (and even if the Predators do make the playoffs) Vesey might not want to not sign because he could have his pick of any team in the league. Why would he limit himself to just Nashville when he could join his brother Nolan (prospect) and father (scout) in Toronto or return to his home town in Boston?
I guess one good thing for the Predators is that Nolan is having a poor season for Maine so there is the question as to whether or not he will make it to the NHL; not that I would ever root against a player in realizing his dream. Another thing to note is that Nolan chose to play in Maine and not Harvard with his brother which would suggest he might play less of a factor in Jimmy's recruitment than some might like to believe. Cough..cough...the volatile Toronto media market...cough...cough
Here's some food for the thought, as well:
Will Jimmy Vesey sign with the Predators or will he "drift toward bad teams" and sign elsewhere?