Jimmy Vesey entered his rookie NHL campaign with much fanfare after his highly-publicized free agent saga culminated with him signing an entry-level contract with the New York Rangers.
While the Rangers’ season is only five games old, Vesey’s gradual progression over those games has been evident. Most recently, he scored the tying and go-ahead goals on the road against the Washington Capitals, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winner.
Vesey Does It
Vesey was not overly noticeable in the opening game of the year, a 5-3 home victory against the rival New York Islanders. Once he got that one out of the way though, he began to show signs of why he was so highly coveted during the offseason.
In the Rangers’ second game, in St. Louis, Vesey helped generate numerous chances and was robbed of a potential tying goal in the third period by Blues backup goaltender Carter Hutton, who was the reason the home team escaped with a 3-2 win. Vesey was one of the driving forces behind an impressive performance by the Blueshirts, who out-shot the Blues by a whopping 35-18 margin, including an eye-popping 15-0 in the final frame.
The Harvard product finally got on the board in New York’s next contest at home against San Jose, finishing on a nice feed from Derek Stepan in what ended up being a wild 7-4 win. A couple of nights later against Detroit, Vesey and the Rangers were again all over their opponent, but fell in a fashion similar to the St. Louis game, with Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard being the showstopper this time.
Vesey though, was a microcosm of his team at this point; he was playing very well but not yet getting all of the expected results. The feeling was that it was only a matter of time before the results (i.e., goals and wins) matched the level of play.
Breakout Against the Caps
On Saturday night in Washington, Vesey’s process and results began to align, and Vesey’s talent was on full display. Down 2-0 after the first period, Brandon Pirri cut the Rangers’ deficit to one early in the second. Later in that period, Vesey took over.
First, he tied the game on the power play with a slam dunk goal off a nifty feed from Rick Nash. Then he gave the Rangers the lead for good with an impressive power move to the net and a gorgeous backhand finish.
After taking Mats Zuccarello’s pass at the top of the left circle, Vesey drove wide, and then cut toward the net while effectively shielding the puck from Washington defenseman Karl Alzner. He then went to his backhand and slid the puck back through Braden Holtby’s five-hole as the star goalie was moving across the crease.
Vesey scored similarly impressive goals in the Traverse City prospects tournament, but one question was whether he could do that against NHL competition. He answered that with an emphatic “yes,” beating an excellent defender in Alzner and last year’s Vezina-winning goalie in Holtby.
The next question is whether Vesey can perform this way on a consistent basis and ultimately develop into a reliable scorer in the NHL. His steady improvement early this season, as well as the tangible results on the scoreboard, suggest that the answer to that will also be affirmative.