Jimmy Vesey #26 of the New York Rangers checks Andy...

Jimmy Vesey #26 of the New York Rangers checks Andy Greene of the New Jersey Devils during their preseason game at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 29, 2016. Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello

Recalling his first game as a Ranger in September 2014, Kevin Hayes had this advice for longtime friend Jimmy Vesey on Thursday night before the rookie’s first game as a Blueshirt: “Can’t be worse than mine,” Hayes said. “I was minus-2 against the Devils on my first two shifts. Marty St. Louis said, ‘Don’t worry. It can’t get any worse from here.’ ”

Vesey didn’t score Thursday night in the Rangers’ 3-1 preseason win over the Devils at the Garden, but he certainly had some opportunities. Less than 30 seconds into the game, Vesey flew in on a breakaway, but his backhand attempt was stopped by Scott Wedgewood. That “got me into the game right away.” said Vesey, who played 16:33. “I would have liked to score, but I wasn’t sure how much time I had, so just tried to make a quick move.”

With six minutes left in the first, he just missed a feed on the doorstep. In the third period, he drove hard to the net and was drilled into the crossbar, resulting in a power play that led to Brandon Pirri’s second goal.

With about eight minutes to play, Wedgewood stopped him in front on a pass from Rick Nash.

“The pace is another step up and guys are bigger and stronger out there, so another adjustment for me,” Vesey said.

Said Alain Vigneault, “The game today is about pace, speed and reads. He needs to figure it out. So far, he seems to have not just the skill set, but a little bit of bite, a willingness to go into the tough areas.”

The expectations are high for Vesey, the left wing from Harvard University who was sought by a dozen teams before he decided to join the Rangers. After finishing his college career as the Hobey Baker Award winner, he spurned Nashville, which selected him 66th overall in the 2012 draft, and then the Sabres, who traded for him. He also bypassed his hometown Bruins to become a free agent.

Hayes, who centered a line with Vesey and Nash on Thursday night, said he told his pal: “Just play your game: that’s why you’re here. You can’t set the bar too high in game one. He’ll have his ups and downs, hopefully more ups . . . I have all the confidence in the world in him.”

Vesey had played at the Garden before. “Twice against Yale and once against Quinnipiac,” he said. “But I’ll probably have nerves at first . . . In talking to Kevin and Keith Yandle, we worked out together [in the Boston area during the summer], those guys talked about the crowd during the season. Putting on this jersey [Thursday night] is something I’ll never forget.”

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