At the 2012 NHL Draft, the Nashville Predators selected forwards Jimmy Vesey (third choice, 66th overall, third round) and Zach Stepan (fifth choice, 112th overall, fourth round) in back-to-back rounds.
Vesey was selected from the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s South Shore Kings and Stepan from prep high school hockey powerhouse, Shattuck St. Mary’s. These days, both are perfecting their craft in the collegiate ranks: Vesey at Harvard and Stepan at Minnesota State.
Vesey, a native of North Reading, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb, knew from the beginning that college hockey was something he wanted to do.
“I went to games growing up with my father and my brother and always loved the atmosphere at the games,” Vesey said. “The Beanpot tournament is a huge deal in Boston and I knew that was something I wanted to take part in.”
As a junior, Vesey has had a few years to master the art of balancing education and hockey. At Harvard, all of Vesey’s classes are scheduled to end before 2 p.m., allowing time during the remainder of the afternoon for practice, lifting and team meetings. On non-game days, evenings are spent like most college students, doing homework and hanging out in the dorms.
“Everything comes down to time management,” Vesey said. “You have to be on top of your commitments and assignments, otherwise you’ll fall behind pretty quickly. The best advice I could give would be to never procrastinate.”
Over the summer, Vesey visited Nashville to take part in the Predators Development Camp, an opportunity to be exposed to a professional hockey environment and learn from Nashville’s coaches and trainers.
“I just try to be a sponge when I’m there and soak up as much knowledge as I can,” Vesey said. “I have tried to take this professional work ethic into Harvard this season.”
The professional work seems to be working for Vesey this season. So far, he’s tallied points in each of the Crimson’s seven games, working out to nine points (6g-3a) on the year. In Harvard’s 6-3 win on Nov. 11 against No. 8 Boston College, Vesey tallied two points (1g-1a), one of two multi-point games he’s recorded.
“I think my success can be attributed to the line I’m playing on,” Vesey said. “Overall, we [linemates Alex Kerfoot and Kyle Criscuolo] have a great balance of speed, size and skill, which is fortunately translating into goals.”
Stepan, after three years at Shattuck St. Mary’s, spent a year with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the United States Hockey League before heading to Minnesota State, is in the midst of his second season of college hockey. Just in his sophomore year, Stepan has a familiar rhythm that helps him balance both hockey and school.
“I get up early to go to work out every other day of the week,” Stepan said. “I come back home and make breakfast, go to class, go to practice and then come home and relax and prepare to do the same thing over the next day.”
Like Vesey, Stepan had the opportunity to visit Music City and take part in Development Camp during the summer. For him, playing at the higher speed that comes when you get a group of top NHL prospects on the ice together has helped him continue to grow as a player.
“It is a faster game every league you move up into and you need to start preparing yourself for that,” Stepan said. “I am trying to play at a high speed and understand that being good at the little things is what helps you move on.”
Stepan’s Minnesota State Mavericks which are currently ranked in the Top 15 of the USA Today poll, have a 7-3 record on the season and a 5-1 record in their conference, the WCHA. The key to their successful start to the season, according to Stepan, has been the unselfish attitude of every single player on the team.
“Our guys, whether they are scoring or not, know how to do the important things to help win hockey games even if it does not get on the stat sheet,” Stepan said. “It is a fun team to be with.”
As Vesey and Stepan battle through the college hockey season with hopes of a Frozen Four birth come spring, both admit to keeping an eye on how the Predators are doing so far this season.
“I have followed along with the Preds every season since I’ve was drafted,” Vesey said. “It’s awesome to see that they are having such a great season this year.”
Stepan echoed Vesey’s sentiment on following the team that drafted him, with a special mention of a friend of his who has been finding particular success so far this season.
“I really enjoy watching Filip Forsberg play and all the success he is having,” Stepan said. “We are pretty good buddies, so it is exciting for both him and the team to be doing so well.”
To stay up to date on how all of the Preds prospects in the NCAA, Canadian Hockey League (OHL, WHL, QMJHL) and Europe are doing, be sure to check out the weekly Preds Prospect Report on NashvillePredators.com.