The New York Rangers eventually prevailed in the much-hyped Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes.
Welcome back to my Prospect Ramblings column! This week I look at the merciful end of the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes, as well as at a few noteworthy OHL prospects for the 2017 NHL draft.
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It's over. Finally, it's over.
After months of speculation, one ill-fated rights acquisition, and more tweeting than anyone would care to think about, Jimmy Vesey is a New York Ranger.
To be clear, this is not an indictment on the young man that we've seen far too much of lately. One cannot begrudge anyone for exercising their right to exchange their labour for a wage in a place of their choosing. Lest we forget, everything he did was fully covered and approved and sanctioned by the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated between the NHL and the NHLPA. If any team in the league should have a problem with an NCAA player exercising his right to unrestricted free agency after his senior year, then take it up during the next lockout. For now, it's legal, and it happened.
What happened is, quite simply, the dog days of summer. One cannot argue between the correlation of rising temperatures to ultimate decline in the hockey stories of substance out in the world. Ultimately, though, true hockey fans have a constant appetite for news – regardless of whether we're wearing sandals or snowboots. This story, were it during the year, would gain little of the traction it has. Truly, this is a very talented young man, but a completely unknown commodity at the highest of levels.
There are many tales of players who succeeded in inferior leagues. Fabian Brunnstrom was touted as many to be a legitimate sniper capable of putting up 30 goals in the NHL. Despite an impressive first few weeks, his game simply didn't translate. Justin Schultz was thought to be a legitimate top-four defender, and ended up on the Edmonton Oilers, where his production declined until being dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins in March.
Many will argue, however, that Vesey has a much-higher ceiling. To this, they may be correct. However, we still are looking at a player who may flourish, but who also may falter. It's important to keep things in perspective and to adopt a wait-and-see approach.
Insofar as the choice of the New York Rangers, well … it's hardly shocking.
We are talking about a 23-year-old young man who just signed a contract that is going to pay him a lot of money – potentially into seven figures. He will be living in Manhattan, an absolute world-class locale if every there was one. He will pay less income tax in the U.S. than in Canada. He will get legitimate top-six icetime barring any performance issues. He will be a stone’s throw from his home town of Boston, and yet won't be in their division.
Lastly, as a 23-year-old, he will be able to make his own mark. Away from Boston, where he grew up and his family resides … and away from Toronto, where his father is employed as a scout and his brother, Nolan, is a prospect.
Competitively, the move is a curious one – the Rangers are a team most definitely on the outside looking in on the Stanley Cup picture, lest their stars start earning their paycheques.
However, there are too many things that make the Blueshirts an attractive option.
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As we look down the road and see pre-season draft rankings percolating in major media outlets, the 2017 entry draft can't help but attract some allure. While many have discussed names like Matthew Strome and Owen Tippett as proper top-10 selections, there is more to the story.
Vanya Lodnia of the Erie Otters is one name to keep an eye on. A small pivot who spent most of his season on the third line, scoring is the cornerstone to his game. In his draft eligible season, Lodnia will be seen to replace some of the offensive pop in the near-certain absence of Dylan Strome. Standing 5-9 and weighing in around 170 pounds, the young American will not scare anyone off with his size. He makes up for it, however, with shiftiness and an astute vision of the ice that allows him to anticipate plays well. Aided by solid skating and mobility, he finds his way through the traffic. Though the Otters will be a weaker club than the 2016 conference champions, Lodnia can improve his stock by seizing this opportunity to put up the point totals that he has the potential to achieve.
Alexander Chmelevski should be a high pick in the 2017 NHL entry draft.
Alexander (Sasha) Chmelevski, originally a first-round selection in the OHL priority draft by the Sarnia Sting, found himself traded to the Ottawa 67's as the centerpiece for the blockbuster deal that sent Travis Konecny to Sarnia. From the perspective of the 67's, this was a wise move to make as the young American center looks to be a fine prospect coming into his draft year. Not a tall player at just less than six feet, the young Californian is thickly built for his age at just under 190 pounds. Bringing a balanced offensive game with good speed and instincts, Chmelevski has the kind of potential to be a top-line pivot if all goes his way. Though growing a few inches can't hurt, it is not often that a 16-year-old can score at a 20-goal pace (11 goals in 34 games with both Ottawa and Sarnia). His progress this season could be fascinating.
Nicolas Hague is perhaps the most impressive defensive prospect coming out of the OHL this season. In multiple viewings, this scout walked in expecting to see a regression – a mistake or two that would be in-line with a young defender. However, each time was another example of a blueliner who beguiles you with defensive responsibility and acumen that are indicative of a more refined and mature player. In each viewing, the young Kitchener, Ont., native was placed in high-pressure situations where he showed focus and fortitude you like to see earlier in a career trajectory. Though his skating remains a bit raw, as it is with most young defenders who stand 6-6 and north of 200 pounds, this is something where there is certainly room for improvement. Offensively he has a strong shot, though could improve his decision-making with the man advantage. Given his natural gifts, though, these are very coachable items. His strengths, however, are seldom those that can be taught.
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