Jimmy Vesey is hooked and the Rangers got him.
For more than a month, NHL savants spent so much time speculating about which team would land coveted free agent forward Vesey that you’d think even Oshkosh might win the prize if not favored Buffalo and Boston.
But when the smoke of speculation had cleared the lure of The Big Apple, The World’s Most Famous Arena and a darn good contending hockey club inspired the 6-3, 203 pound Hobey Baker Award-winner to choose the Rangers.
“It’s an Original Six, a great franchise with a lot of history,” the newest Ranger said. “But there were more reasons; such as my family being impressed and my reaction to a (favorable) meeting with coach (Alain) Vigneault.”
General Manager Jeff Gorton enthuses over the fact that Vesey can be plugged into virtually any left wing slot and become a regular.
“This is a very exciting day for our franchise,” bubbles Gorton. “We now have a proud guy with a lot of confidence in his ability; a player with a lot of intangibles.”
After scoring 24 goals and 22 points for Harvard’s varsity this past season, Vesey became the most sought after collegiate stud free agent and not simply because he was voted the top player on the university level.
While admittedly a “quiet guy,’ Vesey has no compunctions about telling fans what they can expect from him.
“I’ve got a big, power-forward body,” he explains, “with skill and offensive instincts. I believe that I can plug right into the lineup. I know there’s no guarantee and that I have to come to camp and earn my spot.”
In the end, New York’s New England connection helped turn Vesey toward Seventh Avenue. He’s been buddies with Rangers forward Kevin Hayes, not to mention Chris Kreider and has enjoyed playing at The Garden for Harvard.
“It’s the best arena in the world,” he says, “and I enjoyed skating at the club’s (Greenburgh, New York) practice facility.”
Gorton admits that making the leap from collegiate hockey to the NHL is not as easy as exhaling.
“Jimmy will find that one possible obstacle in making the jump is that everybody in the NHL can play. There are no nights off and the pace of the big-league game catches people off guard.”
Actually, the groundswell of interest in the New Englander turned into a tidal wave of competition with even the Islanders and Devils mentioned as possible suitors.
The fact that Vesey had been a Hobey Baker finalist a season earlier merely underlined his value until it grew to Promethian proportions. Competition from seven NHL clubs at times left Gorton wondering whether his club had a chance.
“I began to feel good about our chances after our meeting with Jimmy,” the GM recalls. “After we went over a lot of points I felt we had made a connection with him.
“But I felt uncomfortable about getting him until the ‘Caller I.D.’ on my phone said ‘Boston’ and Jimmy was on the phone telling me that he wanted to be a Ranger.”
Whether he breaks into the Blueshirts’ varsity lineup will depend on his performance in training camp, but at age 23, Jimmy has matured beyond most NHL rookies.
His resume includes 123 career collegiate games over four seasons with the Crimson, spanning 2012-16. He totaled 80 goals and 64 assists in that time period.
That he played four years of college hockey is a plus and the fact that he appears unfazed about playing on the NHL’s biggest stage is encouraging.
“I don’t really feel any pressure because I’m going to be playing in New York,” he asserts. “As an athlete, I put pressure on myself. Besides, the coaching staff does not expect me to be a savior.”
Now Jimmy must guard against the show business “build-up to a letdown” bugaboo after all the attention the pursuit engendered.
“It definitely took on a life of its own and I didn’t expect that,” he said. “Frankly I’m just glad the process is over.”
So are the Rangers because they beat the odds and got him!