Placed on waivers yesterday as the Toronto Maple Leafs opened up roster flexibility at forward and prepared their cap situation for the nearing return of Wayne Simmonds and Jack Campbell, Jimmy Vesey has been claimed by the Vancouver Canucks.
#Canucks claim forward Jimmy Vesey from waivers. Vesey will join the team in Ottawa today. His availability to play will be updated once details of work permit status are confirmed.
— Canucks PR (@CanucksPR) March 17, 2021
On a low-risk one-year flyer, the Leafs took a shot in the dark at Vesey’s modest scoring upside shown in years past — and he did finish on a couple of scoring chances that were created for him this season — but the likelihood of this working out as a long-term fit was doubtful from the beginning. Vesey started in the 12-15 minute range consistently inside the Leafs‘ top nine, but he was relegated to the fourth line and averaged just 7:11 in his past four games while managing to be a minus-four in the process (the team’s fourth line has been struggling during the Leafs‘ down stretch).
Vesey struggled to impact games consistently or create his own offense, lacked enough pace and balance on his skates, and while he was a capable secondary penalty killer thanks to his length and sense of where his stick should be defensively, he felt like a placeholder from day one. He earned some leeway — perhaps more than deserved — from Sheldon Keefe thanks to his PK contributions and his willingness to be committed enough defensively, but considering the team’s cap situation that prevents them from carrying extra bodies on the active roster, this was something of an inevitability if the Leafs wanted to continue to evolve their forward group for the better throughout the season.
The Leafs would’ve preferred to hang onto Vesey as taxi-squad/Marlies depth that they could rotate in should injuries or under-performance factor in, but with Wayne Simmonds returning soon, the team soon to add up front via trade, the addition of Alex Galchenyuk, and the likes of Travis Boyd, Alex Barbanov, Kenny Agostino, Nic Petan, Adam Brooks capable of spot duty, they’ll shrug this one off easily.
While we know Leafs management is currently hunting for top-nine forward help — and would prefer to pull the trigger as soon as possible — what will be interesting now is how Alex Galchenyuk takes advantage of a similar opportunities Vesey enjoyed to start his Leaf career, albeit his runway might be shorter should the Leafs add soon. Vesey started with Tavares and Nylander, which is where Galchenyuk is practicing today:
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 17, 2021
Galchenyuk’s track record of being a true difference-maker offensively is far superior to Vesey’s, but his reputation defensively is worse. The reports have been positive on Galchenyuk’s buy-in with the Marlies — where he has eight points in six games — as well as in practice and player development sessions. On his seventh team and now 27 years old, this is reaching the 11th hour on Galchenyuk’s opportunity to catch on again somewhere in the NHL. Inserting a player that should be feeling a serious level of urgency during the season’s doldrums — amid a losing streak — is a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” situation that is worth taking a shot on.
Additionally, depending on how this shakes out with Galchenyuk, it may change the Leafs’ calculations somewhat on how many forwards they need to add among the top-nine group. Keefe still feels the need to move Zach Hyman down in order to give his third-line life, while often elevating him mid-game knowing Joe Thornton, at this point his career, can’t go shift-for-shift with the Leafs’ heavily-leaned-on Matthews-Marner duo, particularly when they’re playing every other shift when the team is trailing. It doesn’t feel like a forward group that’s settled into its final form for a playoff run yet, which should make for an interesting few weeks ahead of the April 12 trade deadline.