May 17, 2012

From NEHJ: Vesey gets another shot

By Bill Keefe

Hard work. Confidence. Opportunity. 

Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass.) earned the EJHL's MVP award in his first season with the South Shore Kings. (Photo courtesy of South Shore Kings)

Those words get thrown around so often they sometimes lose their meaning. Or they are abstract enough in the first place that they never had meaning.

A year ago, North Reading, Mass., left winger Jimmy Vesey, then of Belmont Hill, “fully expected” he would be drafted. He started the year projected as a mid-round pick by NHL Central Scouting, was No. 84 among North American skaters in the midterm rankings, but then dropped to 150 in the final rankings. Vesey was “pretty bummed out” when he was passed over.

“I used that as a chip on my shoulder and motivation to get better and prove them wrong,” Vesey said.

Vesey decided to leave Belmont Hill for the South Shore Kings of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. He immersed himself in the workout program of Brian McDonough, gaining a step of on-ice speed and adding 15 pounds of muscle to his now 6-foot-2 and 200-pound frame. His coach, Scott Harlow, played him in every situation and he was part of a good team with high-end linemates.

The hard work in the gym, the confidence from the newfound strength and speed and the opportunities available with the Kings have made last year seem like a long time ago.

In the final NHL Central Scouting rankings released in April (Page 39), Vesey made one of the biggest jumps of any player, from 164 in the midterm to 77. Two NHL scouts said he won’t last past the third round and may crack the second.

“I was one of those teams that bypassed Jimmy,” said Harlow, who also scouts for the Edmonton Oilers. “He had some weaknesses. From him working out with Brian McDonough, getting so much stronger, picking up a step, putting those things together with what he already had with his hockey IQ, and being a pure goal scorer and having great instincts for the game and playing with a couple of really good players (Nick Bligh and Joe Prescott) and playing for a coach that gave him every opportunity, he took advantage of the opportunities he got.”

His rocket-like ascension in draft circles reflect the monster season he had for the Kings, setting single-season EJHL records with 48 goals and 91 points (in 45 games), breaking the previous points mark by eight. Those marks carry added significance when you consider some of the players who have come through the EJHL. Chris Wagner (Walpole, Mass.) was a co-holder of the points record and just signed a three-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks. The other co-holder, Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H.), played his first full pro season in the AHL under a two-year contract with Pittsburgh. Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) became a first-round pick after scoring 21 goals and 63 points and recently signed a three-year deal with Minnesota.

Vesey earned EJHL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards. He also was honored with the Boston Bruins John Carlton Award as the year’s outstanding player in Massachusetts. Past recipients include Coyle and Vesey’s coach at Harvard next year, Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.).

“Any scout that sold his team on taking him in the seventh round last year would look like a genius this year,” one NHL scout said. “Any questions that teams had about him, he answered them this year. Jimmy has a really bright future.”

Vesey said he left Belmont Hill to play against older and stronger players. Vesey said Harvard told him the decision where to play this past season was his. Vesey wanted to stay local and, considering his north-of-Boston address, the South Shore Kings wouldn’t be the first EJHL team to come to mind. But Vesey said it was McDonough, who has worked with a number of high-end prospects and NHL players, and Harlow, who was a Peoria Rivermen roommate and longtime friend of Vesey’s father, Jimmy, that made him choose the Kings.

Vesey was selected as a member of the EJHL select team that participated in the Junior World Cup in Russia prior to the start of the season.

“After the tryout, it was most of the best players in the league,” Vesey said. “The pace was fast and guys were stronger. I told my dad I didn’t know if I could handle the league.”

It turned out the league couldn’t handle Vesey as he registered at least a point in all but six games and had 25 multiple-point games.

“I can’t say I would have done it without my linemates, coaches and Brian McDonough,” Vesey said.

Mike Yandle grew up in Charlestown, Mass., with Vesey’s father and has known Vesey all his life. He coached the younger Vesey on Junior Bruins summer tournament teams and is now a scout for the Florida Panthers.

Yandle sees similarities between father, who reached the NHL and played for the Bruins after being a two-time All-American at Merrimack, and son. Neither was an exceptional skater, although young Jimmy has worked to improve there. But both made teammates better, could make plays and would look to pass first rather than shoot.

“In the past, Jimmy was not strong throughout his whole shift; his wind wasn’t there,” Yandle said from Nebraska on a USHL scouting trip. “This year, he got stronger and stronger through his shift.

“Night in and night out he was facing other teams’ best players. He opened a lot of eyes not just with the points, but the way he finished his checks. He doesn’t take crap from anybody. He plays with a little bit of jam. He takes a check to make a play.

“He might not have had 91 points in this league, but he still would be a high-scoring player in this league.”

Vesey is continuing his workouts with McDonough to prepare for the NHL Scouting Combine on May 28-June 2 in Toronto. He won’t be in Pittsburgh though for the draft itself June 22-23.

“I’ll watch it at home,” Vesey said.

Said Harlow, “He can say the draft was his motivation; but I don’t think it had anything to do with proving people wrong. It was more proving it to himself that he could do it. No one ever said Jimmy Vesey wasn’t a good player. Just because you don’t get drafted doesn’t mean you’re not a good player. If that is what he used though, it worked. But I think it was more proving to himself that if I get stronger and faster, I can play the game at any level. He ended up proving people in the NHL wrong.”

Around juniors

The United States captured its fourth consecutive gold medal at the Under-18 World Championships, outscoring the competition in the Czech Republic 27-4 in six games. Team USA posted four shutouts. Canada was the only team to score on the Americans, falling 5-3 to wrap up pool play and then 2-1 in the semifinals.

The Americans cruised past Sweden, 7-0, in the final with late-season add-on Danny O’Regan (Needham, Mass.) scoring a goal.

For the tournament, O’Regan was 1-3-4 while Frankie Vatrano (East Longmeadow, Mass.) was 2-2-4. Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) tallied a goal. Cam Darcy (South Boston, Mass.) also was part of the championship local contingent. …

The official list should be out in early May, but Sam Kurker, Robbie Baillargeon, Brian Hart, Chris Calnan, Jon Gillies and O’Regan are the New England natives expected to join Jimmy Vesey at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto on May 28-June 2. Devin Tringale and Vatrano may also be in the mix. …           

Brown University hockey fans have to be both excited and nervous about the prospects of recruit Kevin Roy.

Excited because the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Quebec native took the USHL by storm as a rookie leading the league with 54 goals, 50 assists, 104 points and a ridiculous plus-44 in 59 games for the Lincoln Stars. He broke the previous Stars’ record of 47 goals set in 2000-’01 by former Bruin Brandon Bochenski and the points record of 83 set in the same season by Chris Fournier. He was the first player to reach 50 goals in the USHL since former Bruin Mark Mowers and current Anaheim Duck Jason Blake did it in 1993-94. Roy’s 104 points are the most since the USHL ascertained Tier 1 status; the overall record is 135 and the goals record is 67, both set in 1986-87.

Brown fans have to be somewhat nervous wondering if Roy will in fact make it to Providence and how long he’ll last.

Roy is ranked 79th in the final NHL Central Scouting rankings. That fact, and the fact that he is from Quebec, certainly open the door to discussion about the QMJHL. Roy never was selected in a QMJHL draft. However, he had been pursued by Patrick Roy (no relation) and the Quebec Remparts. A similar situation recently arose with Quebec native Louis Leblanc, who played one year at Harvard before going to the ‘Q.’ Another factor in the mix is Roy’s brother, Derick, a goalie for the South Shore Kings, also is committed to Brown for this fall. …

Vermont recruit and potential first-round pick Zemgus Girgensons of the Dubuque Fighting Saints had his season cut short by a broken jaw. …

The USHL Futures Draft, in which each club selects six 1996-born players, was scheduled for May 1. The USHL Entry Draft, in which teams will pick players born in 1992-1997 until they reach a 30-man roster, is set for May 22. …

In a 6-3 win over Des Moines in Game 2 of a USHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal, Gillies earned the victory in goal and scored an empty-net goal, receiving credit as the last Indiana Ice player to touch the puck before a Des Moines player’s centering pass traveled the length of the rink into his own net. …

Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) and the Saint John Sea Dogs continued to rip through the QMJHL playoffs. At press time, the Sea Dogs were a perfect 10-0 in the playoffs, having swept two series and having taken a 2-0 lead over Chicoutimi in the semifinals. Coyle had a league-best 24 points in 10 games. …

The Empire League’s New Hampshire Junior Monarchs won the USA Hockey Tier III American Division title in Foxboro, Mass. The tournament was comprised of teams from the Empire and Eastern States Hockey Leagues. The Tier III National Division title was contested in Rochester, Minn. Neither the EJHL nor the Atlantic Junior Hockey League sent representatives to national junior tournaments.

Kyle LeJeunesse (South Berwick, Maine) led the Monarchs and the tournament in scoring with 10 points on eight goals and two assists in five games. The Monarchs’ Alex Devine (Hampton, N.H.) led tournament goalies with a 1.27 goals-against average and .957 save percentage.

The Monarchs were 3-0 in pool play, defeated the Florida Junior Blades, 6-1, in the semifinals and then topped the Eastern States league champion Mass. Maple Leafs, 4-1, in the final.

Joey Fernandes (Milford, Mass.) paced the Maple Leafs with 3-3-6 in the tournament. …

The Adirondack Jr. Wings, the Connecticut Oilers and the Portland Jr. Pirates will join the Empire League next season. The Wings are the result of a purchase of the dormant Uncle Sam’s franchise in Troy, N.Y.; the Oilers bought and moved the CD Selects; and the Pirates bought and moved the Green Mountain Glades. …

USA Hockey announced it will host the first ever All-American Prospects Game on Sept. 29 in Buffalo. The game will feature 40 of the top American-born prospects eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Bill Keefe can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com