Jimmy Vesey has found home on Broadway after rough first stint with Rangers

Rick Nash couldn’t help but keep an eye on Jimmy Vesey during Rangers training camp before the 2016-17 season.

Here was a 23-year-old kid coming off one of the most publicized free agency sweepstakes in recent memory. Vesey declined to sign with the Predators, who drafted him No. 66 overall in 2012 and offered him a top-six pick in the 2016 playoffs after completing his senior season at Harvard. Who was He then opted to test the free agent market after two months of negotiations with the Sabres, the team that acquired his rights.

In the span of two days after becoming an unrestricted free agent, Vesey met with the Bruins, Blackhawks, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Penguins and Maple Leafs in his hometown of Boston. Word was that several Bruins players came to greet him during an organization meeting with him at the club’s new practice facility.

The Islanders trotted out then-captain John Tavares during his pitch. Patrick Kane attended the Chicago meeting with him, while Devils goalie Corey Schneider and forward Kyle Palmieri spoke with Vesey. Kevin Hayes, a Boston native who played for the Rangers at the time and already had a relationship with Vesey, discussed the consideration process with him. Even Penguins captain Sidney Crosby reached out.

Jimmy Vesey, celebrating after scoring a game earlier this season, is thriving in his second stint with Rangers after struggling in his first.
Jimmy Vesey, celebrating after scoring a game earlier this season, is thriving in his second stint with Rangers after struggling in his first.
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On August 19, 2016, one of the most anticipated college free-agent signings came to fruition when Vesey decided to become a Ranger.

“You hear all of that and you kind of wonder what kind of kid they are and what their motive behind it is,” Nash told The Post in a recent phone interview. Told to “I could tell right away he was a good kid. I always thought of him as a guy who just wanted to play hockey and I realized he hated all the hype around him. Changing teams and teams and bouncing around in Nashville, bouncing around in Buffalo, it seemed like he was just a kid who wanted to play hockey and be successful in his career.

“As a teammate, he couldn’t have been a nicer kid and more of a team man and wanted to do everything for Rangers to win.”

After three streaky seasons in New York, one in Buffalo, half in Toronto, the other half in Vancouver and one in New Jersey, Vesey seemingly went through hell and returned to the Big Apple. He turned a professional tryout into a one-year deal and then a two-year extension, the kind of term he hasn’t signed since the end of his first three-and-a-half-year stint with the Rangers. were First.

The Jimmy Vesey who now wears the Blueshirts sweater, however, is a very different player than he was when he first arrived. Although you only ask two Rangers who have been around long enough to see his arrival and return, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanezad, they’ll tell you he’s the same guy off the ice.

What certainly hasn’t changed is Vesey’s commitment to the Rangers organization and New York City.

“At the end of the day, this is where I wanted to play,” Vesey said after scoring the game-winning goal and adding an empty-netter for good measure in the Rangers’ win over the Maple Leafs in December. told the Post. 15.

Jimmy Vesey greets the fans before his first NHL game with the Rangers.
Jimmy Vesey greets the fans before his first NHL game with the Rangers.
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Vesey entered the Rangers’ locker room as the headline prospect of the 2016 offseason, recently overshadowed by the current Hobey Baker Award winner after recording 24 goals and 46 points in 33 games during his senior year at Harvard. He was named the best player in college hockey.

“Teams that felt like they were underwhelmed, they weren’t happy when we got there,” Kreider recalled. “The guy’s only played in like a handful of NHL games and he’s playing like four out of five different teams.”

Like many other highly anticipated prospects, expectations were detrimental. And they were going blind under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. Yet Vesey seamlessly integrated into the club as it quickly became apparent that he was not quite what the free agent frenzy suggested.

Nash said he was immediately drawn to Vesey, with whom he said he shares a similar personality. According to Nash, Vesey fit into the team seamlessly. He respected the coaches, management and organization. He was early to meetings and on the ice before practice. He was a team first type of guy.

Rick Nash (right) was Jimmy Vesey's mentor during his first stint with the Rangers.
Rick Nash (right) was Jimmy Vesey’s mentor during his first stint with the Rangers.

“I think I played one of his first rounds of golf with him, and he couldn’t even hit the ball,” Nash, now director of player development for the Blue Jackets, said with a laugh. . “He wanted to start the sport because, you know, all the guys played in the summer. Before camp, it was a big bonding thing. When you’re a quieter guy, you get to hang out with the guys. Looking for any kind of experience.

“At first it was hard to watch him play golf, but I haven’t played with him in a couple of years. He’s telling me now that he might be around a single-digit handicap.

The two developed a strong friendship despite the age difference of nine years. They both lived in Tribeca and, as a result, spent a lot of time together, sharing rides to the practice rink and to Madison Square Garden.

“He also got tight with my wife, and I think he actually used to text her like she was my mom and ask, ‘Can Rick come and watch the game?’ ” said Nash.

When things got tough, Vesey spoke to Nash. After totaling 16 goals and 11 assists in 80 regular season games as a rookie, Vesey came up big in the playoffs with one goal and four assists as the Rangers advanced to the second round. However, his overall streak was in immediate decline after that, and it hit his confidence.

Vesey struggled to meet the expectations that were placed on him from the outside and the expectations that he placed on himself from within. He finished the first three seasons of his NHL career with 50 goals and 40 assists in 240 games before the Rangers traded him to Buffalo in July 2019.

“You don’t want to be a roller coaster in your career,” Nash said of the advice he gave Vesey. “As I watched him go to the Leafs and go to Vancouver, fight for a contract and go to PTO and now get this contract, I think he’s a great example of that, where he just He has stayed level headed and worked for everything he has achieved.”

Jimmy Vesey played for Harvard during his college career.
Jimmy Vesey played for Harvard during his college career.

After reinventing himself and his game while bouncing around Buffalo, Toronto, Vancouver and New Jersey, during which he had some “miserable” times, Vesey has said he feels he is the Rangers. I’ve been playing the best hockey of my career since coming back. .

Gerard Gallant has expressed comfort in putting Vesey in any line-up – and so has the Rangers head coach. The now 29-year-old forward has nine goals and eight assists in 48 games, more than he posted the previous two seasons. He’s stepped up to more responsibility on the penalty kill and has even gotten some significant top-six minutes.

More than anything else, Vesey has a consistency that has allowed him to be consistently influential.

Jimmy Vesey hugs Adam Fox (No. 23) after scoring the last goal of the third period during Rangers' win earlier in the season.
Jimmy Vesey hugs Adam Fox (No. 23) after scoring the last goal of the third period during Rangers’ win earlier in the season.
NHLI via Getty Images

“He’s been through a couple of teams and here, obviously – hopefully – feels like home,” Zibanejad said. “That’s where he started. He comes to a new team, but he knows how things work here. The facilities, the city and everything. I think those types of factors play into it a little bit. He immediately felt relieved.

“He was away for a while and came back. That’s all I can see.”

Kreider added: “Obviously, he’s worked on his game. That’s why he’s still playing, that’s why any of us are playing. He’s competitive, wants to win.”

From the outside, New York’s brash manners and brashness don’t seem as soft-spoken and polite as Vesey. Nash even said he didn’t see him as a city guy, which made his early choice to play for the Rangers all the more intriguing. Yet Vesey has found his way back to where he began his NHL career, even though he chewed it out.

Vesey is back for more, and he’s already been able to show more in the absence of all the poise and circumstance that plagued his first spell with Rangers.

It’s always been New York for Jimmy Vesey.

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