The wait is finally over, #VeseyWatch has concluded, and the 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner is a New York Ranger. While the young college free agent, whose rights were originally owned by the Nashville Predators before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres, was considering teams such as the Devils, Islanders, and Blackhawks, he ultimately decided that New York is the place to begin his NHL career.
It’s worth noting before we get into unpacking things a little bit that Vesey is not the second coming of Alex Ovechkin, and is likely to play in the middle six as Dave has mentioned. He’s not going to score 50 goals, but there is a decent chance he scores between 10 and 20, he has high upside, and plays on a bare-minimum entry-level contract. There’s a lot to like about this signing however, even when acknowledging that he’s not the panacea to the Rangers’ problems.
I’ve already mentioned it but it bears repeating: having talent on an entry-level contact is crucial for the Rangers who are in something of a cap crunch, although they currently have some wiggle room. Every cheap contract in effect subsidizes more expensive ones, and looking into the future it’s not hard to see how clutch having Vesey on an entry-level deal is, given the players who are going to be due raises in the next couple of years.
Moving past the dollars and cents of the matter, this signing gives the Rangers lethal forward depth. At the moment they have surplus of forwards, and the likelihood of a Vesey/Hayes/Buchnevich third line (assuming the top two lines remain the same, subbing in Zibanejad for Brassard) means not only will we potentially see the kind of depth scoring we haven’t had since the days of the Benoit Pouliot/Derick Brassard/Mats Zuccarello third line, but also that the fourth line can be even better. Even if the three youngsters don’t make it together the Rangers still have the likes of Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Josh Jooris, Michael Grabner, and Nathan Gerbe all vying for bottom six spots, meaning that AV has the luxury of only playing his best possible forwards night in, night out. While Vigneault has often eschewed that principle in the past with regards to the Rangers’ depth forwards at this point there’s just too much talent in the bottom six not to play the best possible lineup, making it possible that this is the end of Tanner Glass.
Looking more long term, this move definitely helps prop the window open a little bit longer, with Vesey adding to the Rangers forward corps in a way that may help define the team in years to come. Right now Kreider, Miller, Stepan, Hayes, Vesey, Zibanejad, Fast, Lindberg, and Buchnevich are all 26 or younger, and Mats Zuccarello is 28. That’s more than enough forwards to assemble a competent top six and then some, with the front office proving this offseason that it knows how to plug holes in the bottom six with savvy free agent signings. Suffice to say that the Rangers forward group is looking good for several years to come.
Which brings us to the last and most exciting aspect of this signing to unravel: the potential for trades. Given the way in which the Rangers now have a plethora of forwards, there’s the flexibility to make a trade for some defense. I’m personally of the opinion that the addition of Vesey and the fact that the Rangers have some cap space left over foreshadows a trade, but who knows, that’s just me. Even if there isn’t a trade to be made right now, the added flexibility down the road leaves the Rangers with options as the market for defense changes and develops.
Now through all of this excitement I’ve got one major fear: that the Rangers are putting too much stock in the addition of Vesey to their forward group, and that the front office sincerely believes that Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are going to have bounce back years, or at the very least that the stacked forward corps is going to cover for the defense’s deficiencies. It’s a legitimate worry, given the logic behind the Eric Staal trade, but I think this front office has proven so far that it knows what it’s doing. After all, they did just land the most coveted college free agent since Kevin Hayes.