What NHL uniform will Jimmy Vesey eventually wear?
Welcome back to my weekly prospect ramblings! This week I look at the drama sure to unfold with Jimmy Vesey, as well as a few of the 'best of the rest' who remain on the UFA market — and what prospects may take their spots on interested teams.
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The case of Vesey continues to be one of the summer storylines in the NHL. Originally drafted by the Nashville Predators, 66th overall in 2012, Vesey is another in a list of NCAA players who have played their senior year to become a UFA. At 23 years of age, the young left winger has shown he has legitimate NHL potential by posting 58 and 46 points in 37 and 33 games respectively.
This story has continued to grow this past week, as reports indicate his camp apparently has a shortlist of teams. This list allegedly includes the Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Each of these clubs has its own unique trump card to play.
The Sabres acquired Vesey's rights from the Predators on June 20, hoping to sign the young forward quickly. This has not yet happened, and becomes a dimmer possibility with each passing day. It must be noted that Buffalo has other assets at hand – not the least of which is the fact that there is an existing friendship Vesey and franchise cornerstone Jack Eichel. While spending a third-round pick for the acquisition of Vesey’s negotiating rights from Nashville remains a poor example of asset management from my own perspective, signing him would make sure it is likely not mentioned again.
The Bruins also remain a strong potential option in the sweepstakes. As a native of Boston, Vesey may be inclined to stay close to home – particularly after spending his collegiate career in the same town. This level of familiarity could be a tipping point, as few young players are given the chance to play with their hometown teams right away. The prospect of lining up beside either Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci wouldn't hurt as well.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been the long-rumored favourite to land the collegiate standout. Though it has been based purely on speculation, as there has been no information to suggest Toronto has a leg up in the proceedings, there may be some legitimacy to this theory. Vesey's father, Jim Sr., is employed by the Leafs as a member of their amateur scouting department. Furthermore, his older brother Nolan was drafted in the sixth round by the blue-and-white in 2014.
While this may help sway the young man, it must be equally considered that there may be an equal desire to go out on his own and blaze his own trail. Should that be the case, Toronto may be on the outside looking in.
The New Jersey Devils are a peculiar case, and as such, are a darkhorse. Just an hour outside of Manhattan, and with a lineup that could use scoring punch added to the likes of newly acquired Taylor Hall, the Devils could make a compelling case. With a legitimate top-tier goaltender in Cory Schneider, a solid (albeit unspectacular) defence corps, and a young group of prospects in Pavel Zacha, John Quenneville, and the newly drafted Michael McLeod, the Devils may be a good fit for a young player such as Vesey.
The Pittsburgh Penguins may be the obvious choice, if for no other reason than acting as reigning Stanley Cup champions. However, at least in this scout’s view, the Pens represent a weaker offer in the larger picture. Vesey may not be able to secure a legitimate scoring role on a team such as Pittsburgh, thus decreasing his ability to showcase his skill. To exacerbate the situation, the recent Cup victory will only shed more light and expectation on the club overall – something a newly arriving young man may not be accustomed to. All that being said, though, the possibility of lining up the left side of Sidney Crosby may be the only advantage Pittsburgh needs.
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The frenzy of free agency has quieted, and we are down to the dog days of summer in the hockey world. While July 1 represented unprecedented long-term spending by NHL GMs (cleanly paving the way for another lockout in a few years, but that's a different conversation), a few quality players remain out there with their names sorely lacking from a contract.
Kris Russell remains a reliable defender who gained prominence in Calgary when Mark Giordano went down with injury in the 2014/2015 season. Sadly, that success did not translate when Russell was dealt at the trade deadline this season to Dallas, where his play suffered. While rumors have swirled about his salary expectations, there are a few clubs who may still seek his services.
Footage: Shot-blocking machine Kris Russell might end his UFA status by signing with any one of several NHL clubs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been a rumored destination, and their recent trading of Jonathan Bernier to the Anaheim Ducks may have also cleared up the requisite cap space to do it. However, the Leafs have a few prospects of their own knocking at the door. Viktor Loov has shown himself to be a reliable defender with the Toronto Marlies, and with bottom-pairing potential, his development may be best suited to the big club at this point.
The Edmonton Oilers remain a club in need of defense, and Russell may be a wise addition. With several seasons under his belt with the Flames, Russell understands both the conference and the division well. With names like Darnell Nurse and Oskar Klefbom making strides in their development, a player like Russell may be just the option to take some heat off the Oil's budding blueline. However, the Oilers paid a premium by acquiring former fourth-overall selection Griffin Reinhart from the New York Islanders by sending a first-round selection in exchange. Reinhart may never become the top-pairing workhorse many saw in him, but he is primed and ready to occupy a permanent spot on the main roster.
The New York Rangers also sit as a club that could use defensive help. With the sudden dropoff in the play of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh is simply overworked and Henrik Lundqvist is not getting any younger. With Russell as a solid 4/5 option, the Rangers may be able to find a way to make it work and provide a steadying presence in their own end who can take some pressure away from King Henrik. However, names like Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath may have something to say about that. Skjei has emerged as a player with legitimate top-four ability, while McIlrath may prove his worth as a 5/6 who can just protect his own end. While Skjei remains the vast favourite, the Blueshirts may not be willing to throw a big contract the way of Russell.
Jiri Hudler remains another name that can certainly add quality to an NHL roster. The 32-year-old Czech remains a solid player who can take a spot on the wing and put up 40 to 45 points per season. While a long-term contract is hardly advisable for a player of his ilk, possibilities remain for his career to continue.
Once again, the Toronto Maple Leafs come to the fore. Adding a veteran winger at a decent contract would be something the Leafs could use, as they project to have a very young lineup going into the season – particularly up front. Mike Babcock knows Hudler from his days in Detroit, which could enhance the chance of a reunion. If Hudler's demands are out of sorts, though, a name like Josh Leivo may be the one occupying that spot on the lineup card. Leivo has been a soldier with his time on the Marlies – he has scored consistently, and learned to use his size more effectively. Though his skating remains a concern, it has improved and can continue to do so… making Hudler's presence at the ACC more likely in the visitor’s dressing room.
The Anaheim Ducks are a team where secondary scoring proved to be an issue, particuarly late in the season. With Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf not getting any younger, adding a veteran forward with offensive prowess could be a well-conceived idea by Bob Murray. Hudler wouldn't be relied upon heavily, but could find a good home in the top nine and chip in with timely goals. With finances being a consideration, however, it remains more likely that former top-10 selection Nick Ritchie gets the call. Standing 6-3 and weighing over 230 pounds, he is a behemoth on skates and will bring a level of physicality that Hudler simply does not have. When considering the benefit to his development, Ritchie is a very real possibility for that spot in the lineup.
The Montreal Canadiens had a very tough time scoring enough goals to win last season. To be clear, it is difficult when the goaltending isn't holding up its end of the bargain. However, the Canadiens would be wise to realize that Carey Price is in his prime – and now is your best chance to win. Adding a player like Hudler would be an excellent option for depth in scoring, as he has had a history of playing with countryman Tomas Plekanec on the international stage. The Habs, though, have long been considered a small team… and for that reason, former first-round pick Michael McCarron remains the odds-on favourite to take that type of role as a third-liner. Though not possessing the same offensive prowess, McCarron is the kind of player Montreal may need to create offence simply by doing the dirty work and creating additional space. This, of course, is providing the defense can move the puck up to the forwards — something it struggled with this past season.
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