Jimmy Vesey had bounced around the NHL for a couple years before making his way back to the Rangers this season.
After scoring 50 goals in three seasons with the Blueshirts before being traded away to Buffalo in 2019, he re-invented himself with the Devils last season as a fourth-liner/penalty-killer. The Rangers brought him to camp this fall on a tryout basis, figuring he could help them in that role this season.
A quarter of the way into the season, though, Vesey is doing more than that. For nine of the last 10 games, he’s been the right wing on the top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad.
“I think the games with (Kreider and Zibanejad), we’ve played pretty well,’’ Vesey said after Wednesday’s 3-1 road victory over the Ottawa Senators in which he’d scored the game’s first goal. “I guess you (media) would say there needs to be more five-on-five scoring, but most of the games, we've had the better of the matchup we've gone against.’’
The Rangers like to play their top line against other teams’ top lines, and since the 6-3, 202-pound Vesey joined the top trio on Nov. 10, the line has outscored opponents, 6-3, outshot them, 74-47, and produced more scoring chances than they’ve allowed (59-40) at even strength, according to Natural Stat Trick.
“He plays a big part of it,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said of Vesey on the top line. “He's done a good job. He's filled in there quite a bit and it sort of fits. He goes to the net, he makes good plays and he reads off them well.’’
Long term, Vesey, who has three goals and five assists in 23 games, could end up being a placeholder on the first line until the Rangers bring in a big-ticket scoring winger at the trade deadline. But for now, the top line is working as is. Vesey credits Kreider and Zibanejad, two of five players remaining on the roster (Filip Chytil, Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren are the others) from his laststint with the Rangers, with helping him fit in.
“Those guys have been really good to me this year, and it kind of seems like they're trying to help me out, they're trying to make it work,’’ he said. “The last time I was here, I was probably a little more nervous all the time, trying to sometimes defer to my linemates. I think that's been an issue in the past. But I've just gone out and played with them.’’
Vesey said things turned around for him after the 4-3 loss to the Islanders at the Garden on Nov. 8. He’d played on the second line that night with Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafrenière, and he thought he’d had one of his stronger games.
“I really kind of let everything go, and just went out and played,’’ he said.
The next game, against Detroit two nights later, Gallant put him up on the top line. He scored a goal in the Rangers' 8-2 win and for Vesey, “it just kind of snowballed from there.’’