The journey Jimmy Vesey envisioned for himself in the National Hockey League probably didn’t include driving his own car from Toronto to Kanata, Ont., after being claimed on waivers.
It was less than five years ago that the New York Rangers sent a limousine for him after winning the sweepstakes to sign Vesey, who flexed his contractual rights following four years at Harvard to spurn – and infuriate – the Nashville Predators team that drafted him.
Predators general manager David Poile made sure to tell reporters in 2016: “Allow me to confirm we offered Jimmy a spot in our top six, playoff time and a chance to burn a year on his ELC.”
The reigning Hobey Baker Trophy winner from Boston chose free agency over the Predators, was courted by at least a dozen NHL teams and signed before the 2016-17 season with the Rangers after a recruitment campaign that included social media pitches from several New York celebrity athletes.
Fast forward 4 ½ years and there was Vesey, now 27 and on his fourth team, bombing his way Wednesday to Ottawa after the Vancouver Canucks claimed him on waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had signed Vesey to a one-year contract on the third day of free agency last October.
Despite his on-time arrival, Jimmy Vesey couldn’t play in the Canucks’ 3-2 shootout win Wednesday night because the team was unable to update his Canadian work visa to reflect a change in employers.
But he flew with the team post-game to Montreal, leaving his car behind at the Canadian Tire Centre to be shipped home later. Vesey should make his Canucks debut Friday night against the Montreal Canadiens.
This review of Vesey’s path through professional hockey is not to make fun of him. Nobody loves a redemption story more than a sportswriter. And Vesey will be given a real opportunity by the Canucks to prove he can still be “that guy” who came out of college after scoring 80 goals in 128 games at Harvard – then began his NHL career promisingly enough with seasons of 16, 17 and 17 goals for the Rangers before he was traded in 2019 to Buffalo.
But the NHL will humble you. It can beat you down, and Vesey’s journey is one team away from making him a journeyman.
“I would say, you know, my journey has been great,” Vesey said Thursday during an online press conference. “I wouldn't trade anything. I've played in some great organizations and met some lifelong friends. Coming out of college, obviously there was a lot of attention, but I didn't really know what I would be at this level. I had a lot of leverage at that point and I did what I felt put me in the best place to make the NHL and to stay. And it's been a great 4½ years so far.
“In terms of the league, yeah, it's a challenge. I always tell people that the highs are really high and the lows can be really low, so it is challenging. We're all athletes and put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform. I would put myself in that category as well. But at the end of the day, I've had a great time and... wouldn't trade my journey in for anything.”
Most players in his position will say all they seek is a fair opportunity, and in this regard Vesey’s move to the Canucks couldn’t be more timely.
Top-six winger Tanner Pearson, a potential trade chip for general manager Jim Benning ahead of the April 12 deadline, suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury on Wednesday.
Vesey was relegated to a depth role on the talented Leafs, but could find his average ice time of 11:07 spike upwards with the Canucks. Vesey was a frequent linemate in New York of J.T. Miller, and also played with the Vancouver star on the United States’ gold-medal winning team at the 2013 world junior championships.
“I know Millsy very well,” Vesey said. “World juniors we won a gold medal and then played a year and a half in New York and got pretty close there. He was in Boston for a couple of days this summer. We had dinner and we were supposed to golf but got rained out. I know Millsy really well and it's great to have a familiar face in the locker room. He was one of the first people that reached out to me.”
As for the potential of an increased role with the Canucks, Vesey said: “I'm excited for the opportunity and, from talking to the coaches, it looks like I might have a more prominent role on the team than what I had with Toronto.
“I've played up and down the lineup. I guess in New York and in Buffalo I've played stretches of games with. . . their top six. I always felt that when I'm on top of my game that I belong there. I think for me it's just a matter of consistency and being able to do that every night. That's something I am still striving for.”
Five years in, he’s still striving for a lot at the NHL level. Vesey had five goals and seven points in 30 games for Toronto, where his shots-for percentage (45.3) and expected goals-for (47.1) were near the bottom of the team.
Still, this wasn’t a change he sought. Getting waived by a team, discarded, is never easy. But Vesey doesn’t get to call his own shot now.
“You know, [it sucks], I guess, when you get put on waivers,” he said. “No one really wants to experience that. At the same time, I've been claimed by Vancouver and, to me, that means... they wanted me, so I'm really excited for it. But at the end of the day, no one wants to be put on waivers, no one wants to not be playing that much or playing down the lineup. We're all athletes and competitors and we want to perform. Overall, I'm just really excited to have this chance.”