When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Jimmy Vesey to a one-year deal worth $900,000, they saw a player who could be a reclamation project and hope to rejuvenate his career. It was a good signing as it’s great value and it provides depth for the team.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe placed him on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander at the start of camp in hopes that he could have a breakout season and the opportunity to prove himself. As confusing as it was to see that decision, it made sense to try and get him going as Keefe still looked for a strong balance for his roster.
Through 23 games, it isn’t looking good at all for the once highly sought after college free agent. On a recent episode of Maple Leafs Lounge presented by The Hockey Writers, we discussed Vesey and his recent play. From starting off on the second line to now being on the fourth, Vesey is now in a difficult position as he’s possibly on the verge of losing his roster spot.
Vesey Struggling Offensively
According to TSN’s Mark Masters, Keefe has stated that while he’s constantly being pushed to be at his best, he feels that he has been good defensively for the team. While he has done a great job on the defensive side of things, his contributions offensively has been the complete opposite.
So far, Vesey hasn’t done well offensively as he has only four points in 23 games. It also doesn’t help that he recently broke a 13-game pointless streak recording an assist on Spezza’s goal in a 4-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers. As a comparison for production, Jason Spezza has 12 points in 22 games and Travis Boyd has six points in 15 games, that’s eight fewer games played than Vesey. Both see quite a bit of time on the fourth line and still manage to find the score sheet periodically, more so than Vesey.
At five-on-five with a minimum of 50 minutes played, his scoring chances for percentage when he is on the ice is at 44.61%, which puts him 21stoverall on the team. He’s also among the lowest on the team in terms of goals for percentage (GF%) with 42.11% and expected goals for percentage (xGF%) 46.96 %. Those are below average numbers.
Keefe gave him the opportunity to succeed to try and jump start the offense that he started to show with the New York Rangers, but dwindled with the Buffalo Sabres. Putting him with Tavares and Nylander early on, you always think positive hoping that he can produce with talented players. However, he struggled in the offensive zone.
When you’re given that chance to play higher up in the lineup, you have to make the most of it and show that you’re capable of playing with the team’s top players. When two players on a line are doing the heavy lifting and one player hasn’t lived up to the expectations, it might be time to make a change.
I initially thought that Vesey would have to battle for a spot given the Maple Leafs forward depth. As the season progressed, Vesey started getting colder with his production and he started falling in the lineup projection. As a result, he’s hanging on to just stay in the lineup.
Is the Experiment Over?
While the Maple Leafs have been searching for help to add to their top-six, they made a move that surprised everyone when they acquired Alex Galchenyuk from the Carolina Hurricanes. The forward has only one goal in eight games as he’s played all of them with the Ottawa Senators before being traded to the Hurricanes.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has mentioned that the Vesey “experiment” is in jeopardy. While you could say that Galchenyuk has struggled in the past like Vesey, Galchenyuk was once a 30-goal scorer and has recorded 321 points in 557 games played. He’s a player that has accomplished quite a bit but has lost his way, as his development didn’t go according to plan. It’s possible that there could be more value with Galchenyuk than continuing to play Vesey with underwhelming offensive results.
If things go right for Galchenyuk and he plays well with the Toronto Marlies, it won’t be long before he gets the call and gets back into the NHL. It’s only a matter of time before he could be one of the players that takes over Vesey’s spot and has more of an effect as part of the Maple Leafs bottom six.
On a positive note, Galchenyuk had a great first game in his stint with the Marlies. He was used in a late game situation to defend a lead and also recorded an assist on a nice pass to Nick Robertson.
Other Options to Replace Vesey
With Vesey’s inconsistent play, players have shown that he can jump over him to earn more minutes. Players like Alexander Barabanov surpassed Vesey on the roster as he saw top-six minutes for a few games. Even Nic Petan has proved that he could provide steady presence as a fourth liner, even as a third. The Maple Leafs have the depth to replace Vesey both offensively and defensively.
If the Maple Leafs are looking to improve on the offensive production missing from Vesey, look no further than the team’s top prospect. After suffering a knee injury just 2:20 into his first regular season game, Robertson has been lights out in his rookie season with the Marlies.
He ranks fifth in rookie scoring with nine points and has continued to impress with his speed and skillset. If Robertson were being inserted into the lineup and one player had to come out, it would probably be Vesey.
With four goals and 10 points, Gaudet has become one of the main producers for the Marlies this season. He has a good chance to match his career best 25 points he registered with the Milwaukee Admirals in 2018-19. Gaudet is familiar with Keefe as he played for him with the Pembroke Lumber Kings (CCHL) and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL. Keefe praised his effort along with his defensive abilities as he sounds like a perfect replacement for Vesey. (from ‘Will Maple Leafs’ Gaudet get back in show?’, The Toronto Sun- 27/01/20).
Brooks ranks third on the Marlies in scoring with eight points, providing steady production. In his lone game with the Maple Leafs this season, he scored his first career NHL goal after he recorded three assists the season before, totaling four points in eight NHL games. Brooks has been an underrated prospect in the Maple Leafs system and he’s been getting his opportunities to be called up. It’s only a matter of time, before he could see consistent ice time at the NHL level.
With a number of players continuing to impress at the minor league level, coupled with Vesey’s lack of offensive production, his spot on the roster has been on the line over the last week or so. While he does a good job defensively, players in the same role as him are producing. Even if they’re not, they are still getting high quality looks on the net. If this trend continues, Vesey could be on the outside looking in.
Statistics from Natural Stat Trick.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.