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SportsColumnistsSteve Zipay

Has Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey hit the rookie wall?

New York Rangers' Jimmy Vesey, front, skates with

New York Rangers' Jimmy Vesey, front, skates with the puck as Vancouver Canucks' Jack Skille gives chase during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo Credit: AP/DARRYL DYCK

For rookie Jimmy Vesey, one of the most sought-after free agents last summer, the NHL’s learning curve has become sharper.

“It’s fair to say it’s definitely been a grind so far, a lot more games than I’ve been used to,” the 23-year-old left wing said Saturday. “Some games I’ve been a little tired or fatigued. I think my body’s still adapting to this many games.”

Sunday’s game in Detroit will be his 46th for the Rangers. The most games he played in any season at Harvard University was 37 in his junior year. And the demands at this level are tougher than any Ivy League course.

After listening to pitches from a half-dozen teams in August, Vesey chose to sign with the Rangers, and his pro career started in overdrive, with six goals and three assists in his first 10 games.

He calmly handled the boos from fans, along with waves of media before and after games in his hometown of Boston, in Buffalo, which had his rights, and in Nashville, which drafted him in the third round in 2012.

The scrutiny and inquiries about his choice have died down, but the demands on the first-year pro have taken a toll. He’s had one goal — his 11th — in the last 16 games, and that came on New Year’s Eve. With forwards Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich returning from injuries, Vesey has been shuffled to the fourth line.

So Vesey, whose confidence as well as his body have been bruised, is dealing with a new role.

“Everyone talks about the physical grind, but it’s also mental,” he said, “and you can’t let it get into your head. Right now for me, I’m just trying to get back to basics, making sure I’m finishing my checks, being responsible in my own end. Once I do that and bang in a goal, I’ll get going again and hopefully get more ice time.”

Coach Alain Vigneault believes this is part of the journey, even for a player who won the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player.

“We really love his game and what he brings,” Vigneault said, “but right now there’s some other guys in the top nine slots who are just playing a little better than he is . . . When you’re coming out of college, you probably feel it more than a player coming out of junior. He’s a strong player mentally. We’re very confident in his capabilities. He’ll continue to push. There’s nothing better than internal pressure to help guys stay on top of their game.”

Center Kevin Hayes, a long-time friend who helped persuade Vesey to sign with the Rangers, said: “I wouldn’t say he’s struggling. He’s adjusting. There’s ups and downs. It happens to all of us. He hasn’t been getting any bounces, but it’ll start going his way.”

New York Sports