The Toronto Maple Leafs may be back on top in the pursuit of Jimmy Vesey.
The update comes not too long after the Buffalo Sabres acquired the upcoming unrestricted free agent’s rights (which, by the way, would make an excellent storyline for seasons to come, as Sabres fans would surely hold a grudge against Vesey for signing with their geographical neighbor and rival).
And just under two weeks removed from August 15, which is the earliest Vesey can sign an NHL contract, it shows how this has become one of the more complex college free agent situations in recent history.
You probably know the story by now – Vesey, a former Nashville Predators draft pick in 2012, decided to go back to Harvard for his senior year. This was worrisome for Predators general manager David Poile, who knew that if Vesey played out the entire season, he could walk in the following off-season.
The prized prospect wrote an article in the Player’s Tribune in February, quelling rumors that he was going to spurn the Predators and instead re-affirming the belief that he would sign on at the conclusion of his final collegiate season.
But all of that changed when it was revealed that he had no intention of signing with Nashville, to which Poile publicly responded very angrily.
Fast-forward a few months and Buffalo has gotten the same treatment that Nashville got – Vesey told Tim Murray and co. that he has not closed the door but is still pursuing options, which leaves Buffalo wondering if they are actually even being considered.
What does all of this have to do with the Maple Leafs, though? The common belief is that his lack of commitment to both teams that have held his rights is because his heart is in Toronto.
Although he hails from the Boston area, there are many reasons why Vesey would choose to call Toronto home.
His brother Nolan is a Maple Leafs prospect, his father works for the team and quite frankly, with the youth movement that has been underway in Toronto, a young, talented winger such as himself would be foolish not to sign there. And they seem very interested in bringing him into the fold.
Now the tricky part – how does Vesey fit into the overwhelmingly crowded forward situation within the organization if he does choose to become a Leaf?
For starters, he’s got an advantage over just about everyone else – just by joining the Leafs, Vesey would become the organization’s top left-wing prospect. They have a plentitude of centers and right-wingers, with the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, but Vesey is a hot commodity.
He automatically leapfrogs Andreas Johnson, Brendan Leipsic and Kerby Rychel on the left side of the offensive depth chart, so he is basically guaranteed a roster spot in the near future.
Usually when courting college free agents, pursuing teams will use a main roster spot as a bargaining chip – the New York Rangers did it when they courted Kevin Hayes, as did the Edmonton Oilers when going after Justin Schultz. In this case, however, Lou Lamoriello, Mike Babcock and co. would probably prefer to have him start the 2016-17 season with the AHL Marlies, then make his way up to the Leafs during the season.
If they plan on having him make the team from the start, though, they will have to look at moving at least one NHL regular out before October to make room on the roster for Vesey.
James van Riemsdyk makes the most sense in this scenario, as the high-scoring, veteran left winger is probably the most valuable trade asset Toronto has right now. He will also become somewhat expendable if Vesey signs on — not necessarily in terms of production, but in terms of future projection.
Vesey will definitely be a top-six forward in the near future, with high potential to be an elite, top-line winger.
If he chooses to join the Leafs, he may not make a huge impact in 2016-17, but he will definitely see time in the NHL. And it won’t be much longer after that that we see him tearing up opposing teams alongside Matthews and Marner on the first line.