It’s been a wild past 48 hours for new Vancouver Canucks forward Jimmy Vesey. The 27-year-old was put on waivers by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, and by Wednesday, he was suiting up with a new team.
The Canucks picked up Vesey on Wednesday at about 9 am PT, about seven hours before they were set to play a road game against the Ottawa Senators.
Before he had a chance to really process the move, Vesey jumped into his car and headed north, making a four-hour drive in an attempt to make his Canucks debut.
“I drove from Toronto to Ottawa, right when I got the official word at noon that I was claimed. Got to the rink at about 4:15 and left my car there,” Vesey told reporters via Zoom today. “I was prepared to play the game but obviously the paperwork issue held that up. I watched the game and then got on the plane with the guys and I’m in Montreal now.”
Vesey drove to avoid having to quarantine before joining his new team, which he would have had to do had he taken a commercial flight. He made it on time and even took the pre-game skate, but his Canadian work visa couldn’t be processed in time, so he had to sit it out.
His car, by the way, is still sitting at the arena in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata.
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For fans, this may stir up thoughts of the legend of Artem Chubarov, a former Canucks player who simply ditched his car in the underground parking lot at Rogers Arena (known as GM Place in those days), when he left for the KHL in 2004.
The plan for Vesey is to get it shipped somewhere eventually.
Vesey is from Boston, and has mutual friends with Adam Gaudette. He also played against Thatcher Demko in college — Vesey beat him out for the Hobey Baker Award in 2016 but Demko’s team ended his season.
But Vesey is actually a close friend with J.T. Miller, who he won a World Junior gold medal with as members of Team USA in 2013. The pair also played together during Vesey’s first two years with the New York Rangers.
Jimmy Vesey said he's close with new #Canucks teammate J.T. Miller. They even met for dinner this past summer.
Here they are together on February 4.
📷: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports pic.twitter.com/SLpmNJZ701
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) March 18, 2021
“He was in Boston for a couple days this summer and we had dinner,” Vesey said, who added that they planned to go golfing together, but it got rained out.
“I know Millsy really well and it’s great to have a familiar face in the locker room. He was one of the first people that reached out.”
“It’s sh*tty when you get put on waivers”
Getting put on waivers has to be a shot to the ego of any hockey player, given that it means the team you’re on is willing to risk losing you for nothing.
“It’s shitty when you get put on waivers,” Vesey said bluntly. “No one really wants to experience that.”
Perhaps it’ll be a blessing in disguise though for Vesey, who had fallen out of favour quickly in his first season in Toronto. After averaging about 12:58 minutes per game in January, Vesey’s time on ice dropped to 10:58 per game in February. In March, his average ice time dropped to 8:59 per game, including a season-low 4:41 of ice time last week in Winnipeg.
Subsequently, through 30 games he has just seven points.
“We’re all athletes and competitors and we want to perform. So overall, I’m just really excited to have this chance (with the Canucks).”
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Vesey will get a much better opportunity to succeed in Vancouver. He was lined up with Brandon Sutter and Jayce Hawryluk during the pre-game warmup, but will probably be elevated in the lineup, assuming Tanner Pearson misses time with the injury that caused him to leave Wednesday’s game early.
It remains to be seen if he’ll play special teams, but he has experience playing on both the power play and penalty kill during his five-year NHL career.
“I’m excited for the opportunity and through talking to the coaches, it looks like I might have a more prominent role on the team than what I had with Toronto. You’ve got to love that opportunity and that chance to succeed ultimately. I think this team has a lot of good pieces in place and hopefully I can add to the mix and help this team to win hockey games.”
Vesey has baby face, but has imposing size at six-foot-3 and 202 pounds. He doesn’t play a big bruising style of game, but the left winger does have the skill necessary to succeed in the NHL.
“I’ve always felt that when I’m on top of my game that I belong [in a top six role]. I think for me, it’s just a matter of consistency, and being able to do that every night.”
What went wrong
A star in college, Vesey was a highly coveted NCAA free agent before signing with the Rangers in 2016. Vesey’s first three years in New York went well, with him scoring 16-17 goals each season. After notching a career-high 35 points in 2018-19, he was traded to Buffalo, but struggled with the Sabres — as nearly everyone does with that franchise.
“Last year wasn’t what I wanted. Got off to a bad start in Buffalo, but as the year went on I progressed… It’s tough to say, but if you throw out the first 20 games of that year, I think I was statistically about on the same pace as what I had been in New York.”
Vesey had a disastrous start in Buffalo, scoring just two points in his first 19 games. He had 18 points in 45 games the rest of the way.
With the Leafs, Vesey was a victim of playing on a deep team.
“This year (in Toronto) I played a little bit up the lineup to start the year, but mostly was down the lineup. Toronto’s got a lot of talent obviously, and a lot of depth. It was a competitive roster.”
Vesey can play at the NHL level, and it’s easy to see why he struggled in Toronto. But with the Canucks, a team in desperate need of depth at forward, there should be no excuses.
“I’m looking forward to this opportunity and going to try to take it and get back to where I was… I’m excited for the challenge.”