When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Jimmy Vesey, no one really knew what they were getting. Once heralded as one the best emerging young players, he had floundered in the NHL. Eventually he’d moved downward from full-time minutes with the New York Rangers in 2016-17 to a season where he really couldn’t put things together with the Buffalo Sabres in 2019-20.
For the entire 2019-20 season in Buffalo, he only scored nine goals and 11 assists (for 20 points) in 64 games. In his prior three seasons, he’d scored 16 goals once and 17 goals twice – not earth-shattering, but solid enough.
So when he signed with the Maple Leafs for $900,000 during the offseason, it looked like another Kyle Dubas move as a general manager trying to hit a home run on a free agent – he tends to take chances like this. Surely, Vesey had the potential to do better with the Maple Leafs in 2020-21 than he did last season.
Vesey’s Season Started Well
After the Maple Leafs short training camp, Vesey was given top-six minutes on a line with John Tavares and William Nylander. For one game, that worked and Vesey scored a goal in his Maple Leafs’ debut.
In fact, that goal was critical to the Maple Leafs’ comeback win over the Montreal Canadiens. Halfway through the third period, Vesey scored to tie the game 4-4 and send the teams into an overtime period. There the Maple Leafs prevailed 5-4 on a Morgan Rielly goal.
Vesey’s Season Started Slumping at the End of January
Vesey’s last Maple Leafs goal was on January 22 against the Edmonton Oilers. He simply couldn’t score. In fact, things got so bad that there was a rumor he could become a healthy scratch on Saturday. He’d scored only a single assist in his last 15 games.
Still, his head coach Sheldon Keefe kept playing him – although he’d moved down from top-six minutes to the third line and then eventually to a fourth-line spot with Jason Spezza and Travis Boyd.
Keefe noted that Vesey “hasn’t been able to make his mark. There have been positives (Vesey’s defensive play and penalty-killing), but at the same time, others have come into the lineup and made an impact, especially offensively.” (from “Some injured Maple Leafs are expected back versus Oilers,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 27/02/21).
In fact, there had been speculation that Vesey would sit on Saturday, but he played. He also remained in the lineup for Wednesday’s game in his now usual fourth-line role and the Maple Leafs scratched Alexander Barabanov.
Vesey Breaks Out Against the Oilers on Wednesday
When Vesey entered Wednesday’s game, he had scored two goals and two assists in 23 games. He doubled that number in one game when he scored two goals in the team’s 6-1 victory. Before those two goals, Vesey was stuck in a horrible funk, not having scored in 17 games – since late January.
Vesey was in the right spot two times, took two shots, and converted both. He now has four goals and two assists (for six points) in 24 games.
Vesey’s Still Not Scoring Much, Even After Tonight – But …
Although Vesey isn’t scoring much, even after his outbreak in Wednesday’s game. The question remains: is he valuable in the Maple Leafs lineup?
I believe Vesey has strong value to the Maple Leafs. Although he’s still not scoring well, he’s now a solid fourth-line guy who kills penalties and plays pretty solid defense. He shows up, has high hockey IQ, and can be trusted on the ice.
As well, at 6-foot-3, Vesey’s game does have a physical element to it. He delivers the odd hit as well. Given that he’s (similar to Alex Kerfoot) a Harvard grad, he’s a smart player as well.
In addition, although his contract isn’t at the NHL league minimum, he’s adding to the Maple Leafs’ lineup on the cheap. With the Maple Leafs’ salary-cap issues as they are, it was crucial that the Maple Leafs put together a solid fourth line that came in under a $3 million price tag. It does.
How Good Is the Maple Leafs’ Fourth Line?
In fact, an argument could be made that the team’s fourth line of Jason Spezza (at $700,000), Travis Boyd (at $700,000), and Vesey (at $900,000), which totals $2.3 million is both a darn good line and really good value.
Is there a better fourth line in the NHL? Although secondary scoring is huge for any NHL team – as it proved to be tonight for the Maple Leafs, even if Vesey doesn’t score that much, I still think he adds value to the team.
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