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Vesey brings even-strength production, net-front ability to Sabres

Botterill sees forward contributing on top three lines

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Jimmy Vesey has seen an evolution in his game since coming into the NHL. He took pride in the fact that he began to see minutes on the penalty kill last season, a role he felt was a credit to his maturity on the ice and increased knowledge of the defensive zone. His average ice time of 16:03 was a career high.

Yet, at the end of the day, Vesey still describes himself the same way he would during his decorated collegiate career at Harvard.

"I think I'd still consider myself a goal scorer," he said during a conference call on Monday. "I think that's my trademark."

After acquiring Vesey from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick on Monday, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill listed the winger's speed, size, and two-way game as positive attributes that made him an attractive asset for Buffalo. 

What stood out the most, though, was Vesey's consistent ability to score at even strength since entering the league three seasons ago. Forty-three of his 50 career goals have come at even strength, including 16 in each of the past two seasons. His 31 even-strength points last season ranked third on the Rangers. 

That ability to fill the net made Vesey a fit for a team looking to establish balance throughout its lineup. 

"We've always talked about bringing in more skill, especially to help our forward group, and that's why we felt it was important to make the deal for Vesey today," Botterill said. "I think there's always a different combination of top six, bottom six. Right now, we certainly believe Jimmy can add to our group in the top nine."

Vesey attributed his consistent production at even strength to his willingness to go to the net, an area Botterill said he and his staff have been aiming to improve. 

"I think just part of my game and part of my style is a little bit of a blue-collar element," Vesey said. "Something I think I've had part of my game my whole life is I get to the front of the net and that's where the goals are scored mostly. 

"I like to get on the inside, get to the front of the net and I think a good portion of my goals have been scored right in the small radius in front of the net. When things are going bad that's something I fall back on, trying to get to the front of the net."

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: We're excited to have you, @19Vesey! #Sabres50 pic.twitter.com/ql0hutUhXd

The Sabres previously acquired Vesey's draft rights in June 2016, when he was months away from unrestricted free agency after completing his senior season at Harvard. Though his discussions with Buffalo were positive, he opted to explore free agency and ultimately signed with New York.

"I think the whole time, I had nothing but positive things to say about the organization and the pitch they made to me," he said. "But at that point three years ago, I had kind of made up my mind that I was going to go to free agency and that's what I did. 

"At that point, I thought New York was the best fit for me. It's crazy how much things can change in three years, but … I'm pumped to be on the team. Now I've got some familiarity with some of those guys, so I think it's going to be great."

Coincidentally, Vesey's familiarity with the Sabres extends to three of their centers. He trains with Jack Eichel during the summer and knows Evan Rodrigues from their mutual friends in Boston. He's even gotten to know Casey Mittelstadt over the years. 

"I think the thing that's attractive about Buffalo just looking at the roster is they're really building a strong group of centers and highly-skilled guys," he said. 

"For me, as a finisher, I think a center that's going to possess the puck and distribute it, I think that's attractive to me. If I'm able to hook up and get some chemistry with some of those guys it will make me better."

Vesey, a left shot, joins a mix of wingers that includes Jeff Skinner, Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson on the left; Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo on the right; and Alexander Nylander, C.J Smith, Tage Thompson, and Victor Olofsson all aiming to push for NHL roster spots this fall. 

That's a lot of competition, which is exactly how the Sabres want it.

"What we like with the trade is it just gives (coach) Ralph (Krueger) some more options," Botterill said. "We're excited about some of our young wingers that we have in the organization.

"I think the fact that a player such as Conor Sheary can play both wings, a player such as Alex Nylander has played both wings, here's just another player in Jimmy who comes into our organization, can help us with even-strength scoring and just give us different options throughout the lineup."

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