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Behind The Numbers

Charting Jimmy Vesey's track with Rangers

Hobey Baker Award-winning forward on path to become steady second-line player

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

It's easy to get excited about New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey, the 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner as the best NCAA player, given the immediate NHL success of previous winners Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres.

The Harvard University graduate agreed to terms with the Rangers on Friday, choosing New York over several other NHL teams. 

Vesey was selected by the Nashville Predators in the third round (No. 66) of the 2012 NHL Draft but opted not to sign a contract. His rights were traded to the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft on June 20, and he became a free agent Tuesday, beginning a sweepstakes that reportedly included as many as eight teams.

But how good can Vesey be in the NHL, especially right away?

A historical statistical analysis suggests 30 points is a reasonable target in his rookie season, followed by a career as a capable second-line forward.

Video: Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes continues

Not all scoring is equal

Vesey had 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 33 games at Harvard last season, and his 1.39 points per game translates to 0.32 points per game at the NHL level.

That estimate is based on a method for translating data from other leagues, first developed in baseball by Bill James in 1985, and introduced to hockey by Gabriel Desjardins 20 years later. Essentially, this process calculates the average change in individual scoring levels of all players who went directly from the target league to the NHL in the past.

When completing these calculations for U.S. collegiate players, it's important to break them down by division and by conference. NCAA Division I hockey is divided into six conferences of varying scoring and competition levels, so the translation factors will be different in each case.

Harvard is in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC), which has a translation factor of 0.23. By comparison, Eichel (Boston University) and Gaudreau (Boston College) played in Hockey East, which has a translation factor of 0.37. That means NHL players coming from Hockey East historically have retained more of their scoring than those coming from the ECAC.

Very few players have gone from the ECAC to the NHL without spending at least one season in the American Hockey League. The last to do so and have at least 20 points in his rookie season was Lee Stempniak, who played at Dartmouth College and then had 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 57 games for the St. Louis Blues in 2005-06.

Age also is an important consideration when estimating a player's rookie scoring totals, because a player's size, ice time and scoring can increase dramatically every season. At Boston College, Gaudreau had 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) in 35 games as a 19-year-old and 80 points (36 goals, 44 assists) in 40 games at age 20. Eichel, in his only season at Boston University, had 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists) in 40 games at age 18. Vesey had his highest point total, 58 (32 goals, 26 assists) in 37 games, when he was 21 two seasons ago.

That's why there's a big difference between those who can be dominant scorers as teenagers, like Eichel and Gaudreau, and those who do so at age 21 or beyond, like Vesey, who turned 23 in May.

Video: Potential landing spots for UFA Jimmy Vesey

Charting Vesey's career

Based on Alex Killorn of the Tampa Bay Lightning and free agent forward David Jones' scoring rates in the ECAC, they are Vesey's closest matches and can be used to form the basis of a realistic set of expectations.

In 2011-12, at 22, Killorn had 46 points (23 goals, 23 assists) in 34 games for Harvard. In 2006-07, Jones, at 22, had 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 33 games for Dartmouth.

Each split his following season between the AHL and the NHL; Killorn had 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 38 games for the Lightning in 2012-13, and Jones had six points in 27 games for the Colorado Avalanche in 2007-08.

At his NHL scoring peak, Killorn and Jones each has been a strong second-line player who scored at a rate near 0.50 points per game. Killorn has 138 points (53 goals, 85 assists) in 272 career regular-season NHL games, and Jones had 117 points (67 goals, 50 assists) in 239 games through his first five seasons in the League.

Killorn's post-peak future is yet to be determined, but Jones has regressed since his peak, with 74 points in 223 games (0.33 points per game) the past four seasons.

Though it would be reasonable to expect Vesey to have a career trajectory similar to Kilorn, that level of success hardly is guaranteed. For example, Greg Carey (Philadelphia Flyers), Daniel Carr (Montreal Canadiens) and Kenny Agostino (St. Louis Blues) each enjoyed a comparable measure of scoring success in the ECAC, but only Carr has played more than 10 NHL games.

Players to watch

Vesey's popularity has drawn attention to several NCAA players who may have an equally strong chance of NHL success this season.

Kyle Conner (Winnipeg Jets) led NCAA Division I players with 1.87 points per game last season at the University of Michigan. His college teammates, JT Compher (Colorado Avalanche) and Tyler Motte (Chicago Blackhawks), were second and third, with 1.66 and 1.47 points per game, respectively.

In the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), which has the highest translation factor, the University of North Dakota had three high-scoring players: Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) had 1.43 points per game, Nick Schmaltz (Blackhawks) was at 1.24, and Drake Caggiula (Edmonton Oilers) averaged 1.31.

Some of these players may have a better chance for immediate NHL success than Vesey.

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