When hockey personnel people get a look at Jimmy Vesey, one of the first things they see is his vision.
“We watch Jimmy play and it’s almost like he’s got eyes on his blade and the puck finds its way into the net or on to someone else’s stick to create an opportunity,” Nashville Predators assistant general manager Paul Fenton said. “He’s just a very good and offensively creative hockey player.”
Somehow, though, many have managed to overlook the 6-foot-1, 195-pound forward. Until now.
A third-round pick by Nashville in the 2012 entry draft, Vesey, 19, had a goal and an assist Thursday and helped the United States to a 5-1 victory over Canada in the semifinals of the World Junior Championships at Ufa, Russia.
The Americans will face Sweden at 7 a.m. (CST) Saturday in the gold medal game.
A freshman at Harvard, Vesey was not even in the USA Hockey talent pool until he was one of 46 players named to an evaluation camp at Lake Placid in August. When he made the under-20 national team, it was as the 13th forward.
Now, though, he plays on the top line for Team USA and has five points (one goal, four assists) in six tournament contests.
“When you look at past rosters from U.S., a lot of times you have to be what is considered one of ‘their guys,’ ” Fenton said. “Jimmy was kind of an outsider. He had not been to their structured development camps. He went to Lake Placid this summer and played very well and opened some eyes. Not knowing him, probably, as well as they would have liked to preceding the World Junior it made it difficult for him.
“… Certainly our input to USA Hockey was that we really think that this kid is a special type of player offensively. Did they listen to us? I don’t know. Maybe they saw the same things we did.”
Of course, the Predators did not necessarily recognize those things at first glance either. They, like every other team, let him go through the 2011 draft without being selected.
It was his second time in the draft pool that Nashville used the 66th overall selection on him. That was after he set Eastern Junior Hockey League records for goals (48) and points (91) in a season and was named the league’s most valuable player.
The son of a former NHL player (his father played for St. Louis and Boston) quickly showed what he could do at Harvard, where he had eight points (five goals, three assists) in nine games before he left to play with Team USA.
“As a freshman he was their go-to guy already, quarterbacking their power play and being an offensive catalyst for them,” Fenton said. “A lot of times you don’t see a real offensively talented team at the Ivy League level. He’s raised their level of skill at Harvard.”
Now he has the chance to contribute to a gold medal effort.
The U.S. went just 2-2 in pool play, including a 2-1 loss to Canada, and earned one of the final two spots in the elimination round. The Americans then whipped the Czech Republic 7-0 in the quarterfinals and cruised past Canada in the semifinals. His second period goal made it 4-0 against Canada and his assist came on the game’s final tally.
Team USA has won a gold medal at the event twice in the last nine years (2004 and 2010) and bronze two other times (2007 and 2011).
“He’ll gain valuable experience as far as just playing at a higher level,” Fenton said. “We always want to expose our players to the highest level and always want to expose our players to championship settings so that when we do get them to Nashville or any other level they’ve experienced this. Our ultimate goal is to win championships at every level.
“So if we can get him to experience winning, whether it’s playing for a medal or winning the gold medal, that’s what you want to do. It’s putting these kids in situations where they’re going to be that much more game-ready and championship-ready when they get here.”