After months of speculation, Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey finally has his wish and is now an unrestricted free agent. The Nashville Predators’ 66th 0verall pick in 2012 is now an unrestricted free agent as of 12:01 AM EST. However, Vesey isn’t expected to sign anywhere until later this week.
Vesey is not the only pending free agent coming out of college, but he’s definitely the biggest name on the list. He’s expected to be able to step right in to an NHL team’s top nine forwards and produce. The Hockey News’ 2016-17 Pool Guide predicted his output at 18 goals and 20 assists in 80 games. Thirty-eight points as a rookie would put him in the same neighbourhood as Sam Bennett, Joonas Donskoi, Robby Fabbri, and Nikolaj Ehlers in 2015-16.
Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, New Jersey, New York Rangers, and Toronto have all been talked about as potential landing spots. Each has certain charms that would entice Vesey. You can read Pro Hockey Rumors’ breakdown of each of those teams here.
Wherever he signs, Vesey will get the maximum allowable rookie salary $925K plus $2.85MM in bonuses for a potential total of $3.775MM per season for two seasons. This means his decision will be made based on the situation of the team, and not money.
Of course, signing college free agents hasn’t always turned out for NHL teams. When Justin Schultz signed with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012, he was expected to be the Paul Coffey of the modern Oilers. Instead, his game stagnated and he was ultimately booed out of town; he was traded to Pittsburgh where he was slotted as a bottom pairing/ depth defenseman. TSN radio host Jason Gregor penned a piece on college free agents at Oilers Nation on Monday, where he quoted an NHL scout as saying “NCAA free agents have become the most overrated and over-hyped asset in hockey”.
It’s not that they’re not good players, the scout told Gregor. It’s that “teams treat them like they are going to be stars. They get into bidding wars and pay them like they are top-three draft picks. It’s crazy,” according to the scout.
Recent college signing Kevin Hayes represents a decent comparable. His two NHL seasons of 36 and 45 points would represent a solid start for Vesey as a future top six winger. That’s an impressive total for a rookie, but not in the first-overall-pick range. Adjusting for the lockout-shortened season and Connor McDavid’s injury-shortened campaign, the last five forwards selected first overall have scored an average of 59 points in their rookie season. Taylor Hall’s 42 points represents the low end, while McDavid’s 87-point-pace is the high mark.
More to come…