Highly touted college forward Jimmy Vesey has chosen the New York Rangers. Is he worth choosing in a fantasy draft?
That's the big question after the Rangers signed the Harvard University graduate to an entry-level contract Friday. Vesey, who won the Hobey Baker Award last season as a senior, reportedly was courted by seven NHL teams after he became an unrestricted free agent Tuesday, generating hype and elevated expectations.
The 23-year-old left wing had 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 33 games last season with a plus-11, 14 power-play points and 148 shots on goal. Vesey, who ranked fourth in the country in goals per game (0.73), adds to the Rangers' depth at forward and is a low-risk, high-reward prospect to bolster their system.
Vesey is a threat to compete for top-six minutes in training camp but may have a hard time doing so. The Rangers have a deep forward group with centers Derek Stepan and Mika Zibanejad, and wings Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, and J.T. Miller. New York also has Kevin Hayes on its third line, added serviceable veteran forwards Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe in free agency, and signed forward Pavel Buchnevich, 21, who it drafted with the No. 75 pick at the 2013 NHL Draft, on May 13.
Video: Breaking News: Rangers sign Jimmy Vesey
The Rangers clearly are looking to get younger as an organization, but they may not want to tweak too much in their top six after finishing seventh in the League in goals per game (2.84). There's a chance coach Alain Vigneault could put Kreider, a physical forward who underachieved last season, on the third line, a move that would open a second-line spot for Vesey. There also has been frequent juggling on Nash's line in recent years, so there's a chance Vesey could get a top-line trial at some point.
More realistically, though, Vesey would start on the third line with Hayes, another former college free agent who grew up with Vesey in the Boston area. Their familiarity with each other and the prospect of having three strong lines may be more appealing to the Rangers, especially if Vesey has growing pains adjusting to the NHL.
The adjustment should be the biggest concern if anyone is considering reaching for Vesey in the middle rounds of a one-year fantasy draft. As NHL.com corresponent Rob Vollman noted in his Behind the Numbers analysis, Vesey is making the jump to the NHL from the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference, which does not have as high of a translation factor as that of recent successful NCAA products such as Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres; Gaudreau (Boston College) and Eichel (Boston University) each played in Hockey East.
Because of transitional questions and the Rangers' existing forward depth, Vesey should not be considered in the same fantasy realm as rookie-eligible forwards Auston Matthews (No. 81 in NHL.com's rankings) of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Patrik Laine (101st) of the Winnipeg Jets and Dylan Strome (201st) of the Arizona Coyotes entering the season.
All things considered, fantasy owners should temper expectations for Vesey in Year One. He could score 35-40 points if he plays a full season but would need dominoes to fall for him to get the power-play time necessary to produce at a higher rate. Monitor his Yahoo average draft position once drafts begin, but don't reach for him any higher than the final round or two of your draft.