Rangers Get a Reasonably Priced Depth Forward in Vesey

The New York Rangers have lost a lot of key forwards in free agency, including Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano, and Kevin Rooney, and they may end up losing Tyler Motte too. They did sign Vincent Trocheck but couldn’t afford any other big signings. However, rumors have linked the team to free agent forward Jimmy Vesey, who spent his first three years in the NHL with them. (From “Islanders should honor Ed Westfall for helping lay dynasty’s foundation”, New York Post, 8/6/22) He could prove to be a solid bottom-six forward and he should do so at a reasonable price too.

Vesey’s History With the Rangers

After four outstanding years playing in the NCAA at Harvard, where he won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, Vesey decided to sign with the Rangers. They had high expectations for him and though he did contribute as a rookie during the 2016-17 season, he did not live up to those expectations. He provided a few great moments, but struggled defensively and never seemed to get into a rhythm, finishing the regular season with 16 goals and 11 assists in 80 games.

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Vesey did play well for the Rangers in the postseason though and helped provide a spark in a bottom-six role. He played with physicality and created a few high-quality scoring chances. Unfortunately, he didn’t finish off enough of those opportunities and ended with just one goal and four assists in 12 playoff games.

The Rangers struggled during the 2017-18 season, traded away key players at the deadline, and announced that they would be rebuilding. The changes led to more playing time for Vesey, but he produced similar numbers to his rookie season, finishing with 17 goals and 11 assists in 79 games. He missed open teammates too many times but he went to the front of the net and still chipped in offensively.

Jimmy Vesey Rangers
Jimmy Vesey spent his first three seasons in the NHL with the New York Rangers, Mar. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vesey’s third season with the Rangers proved to be the best season of his career thus far, as he averaged 16:03 in ice time per game and finished with 17 goals and 18 assists in 81 games. He played more responsibly defensively and continued playing hard and driving to the front of the net. However, they traded him to the Buffalo Sabres that offseason to clear cap space which helped them sign star-winger Artemi Panarin.

Vesey’s Role on the Rangers Now

After the Rangers traded Vesey, he played for four teams in three seasons, and last season, he finished with eight goals and seven assists in 68 games as a bottom-six forward with the New Jersey Devils.

Related: Maple Leafs Become Chapter in Vesey’s Puzzling Career

With the 2022-23 Rangers, Vesey would be competing with a few other veterans for playing time. That includes 31-year-old Ryan Carpenter, who had three goals and nine assists in 67 games last season, and 26-year-old Dryden Hunt, who had just six goals and 11 assists in 76 games despite spending a decent amount of the season playing on a line with Panarin and Strome.

While Vesey may be able to provide more offense than Hunt or Carpenter in a bottom-six role, he should absolutely not be playing in the top-six over young wingers like Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere. Head coach Gerard Gallant repeatedly opted to play veterans in the Rangers’ top-six over younger forwards with much more potential last season, but he needs to start trusting his skilled, young forwards and give them more opportunities in 2022-23.

Alexis Lafreniere New York Rangers
The New York Rangers need to trust their young forwards including Alexis Lafreniere (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Lafreniere, Kakko, and Filip Chytil all played very well during the postseason and are showing they are ready to take on more responsibility. Additionally, forward prospects Vitali Kravtsov, Brennan Othmann, and Will Cuylle all have the potential to help the Rangers this season as well.

For Vesey & the Rangers Moving Forward

While many fans are hopeful that the Rangers will re-sign Motte, it’s unlikely that that will happen with or without Vesey, unless they make a trade to shed salary. Motte’s impressive postseason certainly proved he’s a valuable player but the Blueshirts may not be able to afford to re-sign him.

A reunion with Vesey on a one-year contract for less than $1 million would make sense for the Rangers as they look to add more forward depth while staying under the salary cap. He should also be able to give the team more offensive upside in their bottom-six than Hunt and Greg McKegg did last season.

In the right role, Vesey can help the Rangers as a solid forward who plays hard and can chip in offensively. However, they must not use him in their top-six at the expense of their skilled young forwards who stepped up last postseason.

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