The New York Rangers have succeeded through the 2016-17 season due to offensive depth. But having a clear-cut first line helps in the playoffs, and Jimmy Vesey has been an important part of that.
The New York Rangers head into the weekend tied 2-2 with the Ottawa Senators in their second-round series, in large part because of depth scoring. The Rangers’ third and fourth lines have produced consistently throughout the playoffs, but a legitimate first line has made them more dangerous than in years past.
10 games into the 2017 playoffs, that top line consists of Rick Nash and Jimmy Vesey on the wings of Derek Stepan. While Nash and Stepan are no surprises on an important offensive line, Vesey might raise some eyebrows.
Three months ago, Vesey was mired in a slump that had many questioning his readiness for a full NHL season. He started off hot, cooled down, and then found himself in an absolutely turgid slump.
After being reunited with Nash and Stepan, Vesey found a bit of a scoring touch near the end of the season, scoring four goals and three assists in the final month and a half. While those numbers are not particularly impressive, they account for over 25% of his season scoring.
But since the playoffs started, Vesey has been a different player entirely.
From Rookie Spark to First-Line Catalyst
There is no doubt that Vesey turned over a new page when the playoffs started. According to Corsica Hockey, the Rangers rookie sported an atrocious 44.7% Corsi For during the regular season. While he was on the ice, the Rangers were regularly hemmed-in and played without the puck.
But during the 10 games of the playoffs, so far, Vesey has surged. The Rangers are enjoying nearly 52% of shot attempts with Vesey on the ice, and many of them are high-quality chances.
While Rick Nash has been the target of unfair criticism for his postseason performance, Vesey’s improved play has helped him put up the goal totals that many crave. Nash has three goals through 10 playoff games this year, all of them coming at key times.
The Youth Movement
Vesey’s emergence as a legitimate top-six player for the Rangers reinforces their greatest strength. With rookies like Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich showing such promise, and young players like Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and J.T. Miller established, the Rangers’ depth looks solid for years to come.
In the Rangers’ second-round series against the Senators, forward depth has played a key role. While the top lines of the Rangers draw matchups against all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson, their depth forwards have feasted on lesser competition.
But that can only happen when the top lines are a threat. With the trio of Vesey, Stepan, and Nash producing points and scoring chances, Ottawa is forced to deploy stronger players against them, leaving J.T. Miller and (shockingly) Tanner Glass and Oscar Lindberg to score goal after goal.
There is no doubt that Vesey helps fill out a dangerous forward group in New York. His contributions in the playoffs go beyond his three assists in ten games, though.
With a knack for carrying the puck and making plays akin to J.T. Miller, Vesey has established chemistry with some of New York’s top forwards.
Vesey seems to be locked into a spot in the top-six for years to come—and these playoffs show that he’s earning it, despite an up-and-down regular season.