NASHVILLE -- Forward Jimmy Vesey feels that earning a degree from Harvard University will provide him with plenty of future opportunities outside of hockey, even though it pushed back his chance to make the Nashville Predators.
When the Predators selected Vesey in the third round (No. 66) in the 2012 NHL Draft, they knew he had the potential to be a dynamic offensive player. Vesey showed off that potential at Harvard during the 2014-15 season, leading the nation with 32 goals. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top college player in the country.
Vesey, a junior, could have turned pro and signed with the Predators in March, after the Crimson's season ended. Instead, he chose to return for his senior season.
Earning his degree from Harvard is important to Vesey.
"It was a really tough decision for me," Vesey said this week at Nashville's development camp. "I sat down with my family and we kind of weighed our options. At the end of the day, I just wanted to make sure I got that degree from Harvard because hockey is not going to last forever and that's something good to fall back on. I'm going to wait one more year and finish my college season and hopefully sign after the year."
Although the Predators felt Vesey, a government major at Harvard, was good enough to turn pro, he said they were supportive of his decision to return to school.
"They were awesome about it," Vesey said. "I think I have a really good relationship with the organization. I talked to [director of player development] Scott Nichol, [general manager David Poile and assistant GM Paul Fenton] quite a bit throughout the whole thing, and they were really understanding, since I go to Harvard, that the degree is so invaluable; they understood why I'd want to go back. They were great about it."
Vesey is confident he has the skills to be an NHL player right away. However, he feels there is room for improvement in his game and believes spending another season at Harvard is the perfect way for him to get better.
"At the end of last year I could have joined the Preds for the playoffs," Vesey said. "That was something that I had thought about a lot. I think that I'm ready to turn pro, but there is still room for improvement for me and college is a good environment to do that in. We don't play as many games, but we have a lot of time at practice and in the weight room so I can really focus on getting stronger and faster and rounding out my game."
Vesey's numbers increased dramatically last season. He went from 13 goals and 22 points in 31 games in 2013-14 to 32 goals and 58 points in 37 games, helping Harvard advance to the NCAA Tournament.
"I think I was in a lot better physical condition this year," Vesey said. "I really worked hard on that last summer. Talking to [Scott Nichol], that was something that I really needed to improve, so I worked hard on that last summer. I think overall as a team, we just had a much better season. Things were just going well. I was the beneficiary of that."
Vesey beat out Boston University freshman Jack Eichel, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, to win the Walter Brown Award, given to New England's best American-born Division I player. Vesey credited his size and gritty style of play for his breakout year offensively.
"I'm a bigger guy, and I like to play kind of a physical style, like a power forward," Vesey said. "I think one of my best assets is scoring goals, and I was lucky enough to play with two awesome players at Harvard on my line. It's real easy to play with guys like that, and I was lucky enough to be the one finishing the plays off."
Forward Tyler Moy was selected by Nashville in the sixth round (No. 175) of the 2015 NHL Draft after playing his freshman season at Harvard alongside Vesey. He saw firsthand what makes Vesey such a special player.
"He has a lot of confidence in himself," Moy said. "It's pretty evident in practice and in the games as well. He's the type of player where when you put him in big situations, he's going to come up [big]. I think you can attribute that to his confidence level, and obviously his skill set is unbelievable. He's got one of the best shots I've ever seen. It's exciting to watch him play."
Vesey will have options after he finishes his senior season at Harvard: He can sign an entry-level deal with Nashville or wait and become a free agent. Vesey didn't fully commit to what his future plans are, but he did say that loyalty to the Predators could be a factor.
"I have a great relationship [with Nashville], and I think I'm a very loyal person," Vesey said. "At the end of the season, if the opportunity is right, I'd like to sign with Nashville."