Late last summer, Jimmy Vesey was asked how to pronounce his name.
“Rhymes with ‘Easy’,” he said.
V-Easy sped around Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard, who had to give him an inch because Rick Nash was driving down the middle of the slot. Vesey went backhand/forehand, and in a flash, the puck was off his stick and past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on the short side.
Vesey’s rookie season hasn’t always been easy, though. Rookie seasons rarely are, especially when you’ve never played more than 46 games in a season, then you face the grind of an NHL marathon, against bigger, tougher, stronger, faster opponents.
The goal in Columbus, the 23-year-old’s third game-winner of the season, was his first in six games, his second in 17, his third in 26.
“Yeah, it felt good,” said Vesey, who throughout the night got updates from the training staff on his alma mater Harvard’s victory in the Beanpot Tournament in Boston.
“I‘ve kind of tried that move a few times in practice, but when it hit the back of the net I was pretty pumped. It was a big goal in the game and a big goal to try and get myself going again.”
There are times when he has come out of the rotation during games, forced to sit and watch. There are times when he’s played very well, but the puck wouldn’t cooperate.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault always talks about “the process” – accentuating the “pro” portion of the word. He talks about “learning curves” and acknowledges the ups and downs of a young player. On Monday, Vigneault started Vesey on the fourth line, and quickly moved him up.
“I just look at the last game, for instance, where he got off in that game where I thought he was skating real well, I thought he was playing the body and it seemed like he had good energy. So I made the switch early.
“Jimmy seemed to have his legs, had some jump, had some spark, and he was physical. He’s doing exactly what we expected that he would do, what any young player does.”
Vesey, who has 13 goals and eight assists in 55 games, has handled his first season with a good, mature (Ivy League) head on his shoulders, and he has handled it with help from all around – the coaches, veterans such as (and especially) Nash, and other young players, including boyhood friend Kevin Hayes, who came into the league under similar circumstances – a young college free agent after not signing with the team that drafted him. He also rooms in Manhattan with fellow rookie Brady Skjei, and they constantly bounce things off one another.
“You’ve just got to stay positive,” said Hayes, who is having a fabulous third NHL season. “Being a rookie’s not easy. You play good a couple of shifts, and have a couple of bad shifts, and all of a sudden you’re not going to play the rest of the night. But you can’t get down. I just tell him never get too high, never get too low; try to stay even-keeled the whole time and I think he’s done a pretty good job of it so far.”
Vesey, for his part, is all ears, sponging up advice and information from wherever it comes.
“The season’s a lot longer than I’m expecting and I think I’ve done really well physically,” Vesey said. “But just the mental side of the game, you’ve got to stay in the middle, stay even-keeled, and not get too down on yourself when you struggle because it’s such a long season. You’re not going to have your best every game.
“I think I’m at my best when I’m moving my feet and skating. I’ve just got to continue to do that, even though I might be in a different spot in the lineup. Just keep skating, keep working hard and show the coaches that they can rely on me.”
The feedback is quick, concise and appreciated.
“We watch our shifts (on video) after every game,” Vesey said, “and sometimes we watch with one of the assistant coaches. So yeah, as a young guy, they’re trying to teach me stuff and I think I’ve done a good job this year of incorporating what they taught me.”
That hasn’t gotten lost on teammates, including another Boston-bred young veteran who had plenty of hiccups as he went through the “pro-cess” and is now establishing himself as a force.
“Guys on our team, on the whole, do a pretty good job of communicating with the young guys,” said Chris Kreider. “We’ve all been through that process and I think a lot of us are still going through that process. There are ups and downs, there are times when the puck’s going in for you and times when it’s not going in. But it’s just playing the right way consistently and playing honest hockey, and eventually you’ll get rewarded.
“(Vesey) doesn’t say boo, puts his head down and works hard. It’s all you can ask for.”
Of course, others made noise for Vesey, a third-round pick in the 2012 draft by Nashville. He didn’t sign, stayed in school and, after Nashville traded his rights to Buffalo, became a free agent in August.
Vesey had won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s best player last season, and had scored an NCAA-leading 56 goals over his final two seasons. A 6-foot-3, 207-pounder who isn’t afraid to drive to the net or go to the dirty areas on the rink to make a play, a good skater with strong hockey instincts and terrific hands had teams (and media) creating a free-agent frenzy among eight teams.
Vigneault, Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton and, especially assistant GM Chris Drury, convinced him the Rangers were the right fit.
Then Vesey had five goals and two assists in four games at the Traverse City prospects tournament before training camp, and won the Lars-Erik Sjoberg memorial award as the best rookie in camp.
Expectations rose too high too soon. And when he got out of the gate with six goals and three assists in his first 10 games, those expectations got even sillier.
Yet Vesey handled all of it, and now he has confirmed that he made the correct decision.
“I didn’t want it to be as big of a frenzy as it was, but that’s how it turned out in the media,” Vesey said. “I think, for me, getting to a veteran team, around a lot of guys I’ve learned from a lot this year, and have kind of been teaching me a lot and taking me under their wings.
“I always look at guys like Nasher to see what I want to be and see what it means to be a pro. The fact that I’m on a veteran team, and I think we have a special group and we’re winning games, and I think we have a chance to make a run at it. I think that’s what makes it a good decision.”
An easy one.