In 2016, Jimmy Vesey was a hot commodity coming out of college as a free agent.
After scoring 32 and 24 goals his last two seasons at Harvard, Vesey was highly coveted, and the Rangers signed him to a lucrative two-year deal with hopes that he’d turn out to be a star.
He didn’t, though.
Vesey scored 16 goals in 80 games as a rookie but never rose above being a third-line player for the Rangers. And after three seasons in which he scored 16, 17 and 17 goals, the Rangers, in the middle of a rebuild, traded him to Buffalo in the summer of 2019 for a third-round draft pick.
Vesey is back as a Blueshirt this fall, attending training camp on a professional tryout (PTO) and trying to make the Rangers and keep his NHL career going. He’s off to a good start on that mission, scoring the first goal of the night Monday as the Rangers dominated the Islanders, 4-1, in their opening game of the preseason at Madison Square Garden.
Playing on a third line with Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov, Vesey beat Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov over the shoulder from a tight angle on a power play at 10:51 of the first period. Overall, he had four shots on goal and three blocked shots in 17:07 and played on both the power play and the penalty kill.
It was a nice first game for a player who knows he’ll need to perform in the preseason games if he is to earn himself a contract and stick around.
“I think it comes down to these preseason games,’’ he said before the game when asked what he thinks his chances are of making the team. “It’s been a good couple of days of practices and scrimmages, but I mean, games are what count. So these are preseason [games], but for me, it’s probably a little bigger.’’
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant likes what Vesey has done in camp, and he liked his performance Monday night.
“From the first day he came in, worked hard,’’ Gallant said. “He came in here in good shape and he wants to play in the NHL. So he’s, you know, he’s on a PTO and he’s working hard for it and he’s making people think. So that’s what you want from guys.’’
After he left the Rangers, Vesey played for Buffalo, Toronto and Vancouver before going to camp with the Devils on a PTO last season and making the team as a veteran fourth-liner and penalty-killer. He reestablished himself as a viable NHL player in New Jersey, scoring eight goals, including two shorthanded. But the Devils, still in the latter stages of a rebuild and favoring younger players, didn’t want him back.
Rangers general manager Chris Drury was looking for help in the penalty-killing department, having lost Andrew Copp, Tyler Motte, Kevin Rooney and Greg McKegg from last season’s team. So Drury reached out to Vesey and brought him to camp.
Chris Kreider, K’Andre Miller (shorthanded) and Zac Jones scored the other goals for the Rangers, who took a 4-0 lead before the Islanders got a goal from Robin Salo late in the second period. Brennan Othmann, a 2021 first-round pick, had two assists and goaltender Igor Shesterkin made 14 saves and allowed no goals in 27:49. Rookie Dylan Garand played 22:04 and allowed one goal on 10 shots.