Jimmy Vesey was well aware of his position entering training camp. After two lackluster NHL seasons on the ice, he joined the Devils on a player tryout basis. Over the course of two-plus weeks, Vesey had an opportunity, perhaps his final, to earn a contract and show that he still belongs in the League.
"I'm fighting for my life," he said early in camp.
As of Sunday, Vesey will live to fight another year. Hesigned a one-year, one-way contractwith New Jersey for $800,000.
"I'm definitely happy it worked out," he told the Devils official website. "It was definitely a little bit stressful just not knowing what was going to happen.
"I'm really excited. I think we have a lot of talent here and a lot of pieces. So, I'm excited to get the year going."
Video: Vesey 1-on-1 | SEASON PREVIEW
Vesey made an immediate impact in camp, starting from conditioning drills and carrying over into the early intra-squad scrimmages, which saw him not only play well defensively but also chip in offensively.
"I'm happy with how camp went personally," he said. "I got off to a good start. The skate test was grueling and I was happy with my performance there. I was happy with the intra-squad games."
Vesey entered camp hoping to earn a roster spot, but to do so he would have to adopt a new role, one of a defensively responsible, bottom-6 grinder. It was an adjustment for the former Hobey Baker Award winner as the best NCAA men's ice hockey player, who was used to scoring goals while playing in a top-6 role. He posted 16, 17 and 17 goals in each of his first three NHL seasons, but only nine and five in the subsequent years.
"I want to show this team and everyone else that I can play that role of reliable, experienced guy that's going to kill penalties and play wherever I am in the lineup," he said after signing. "I've spent a little bit of time with Mike McLeod now. I really like playing with him. He's got a lot of energy and plays hard. I'm hoping we can find some chemistry and be ready opening night."
Vesey has worked with McLeod on the team's fourth line and penalty kill. It's the latter where he could really excel. In his final season with the New York Rangers in 2018-19, Vesey was transformed into a penalty killer by then assistant coach Lindy Ruff. Vesey has become a strong killer since then and now he wants to show his now head coach his progression.
"He's seen what I can do," Vesey said of Ruff. "The last year I was in new York with Lindy it was my best season so far in the NHL. He knows what I can do. I was really grateful for both of (Ruff and general manager Tom Fitzgerald) to give me this opportunity. They were super honest and clear with me. I'm excited it worked out."
Vesey is still getting used to the Devils' killing style and is working closely with assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, who oversees the unit, to improve his reads and positioning.
"To be honest, there is still a learning curve with some of the systems here," he said. "I know I can be better on the penalty kill and overall I've been talking with Alain about the penalty kill. We're trying to get everyone on the same page. We have some new faces. I'm excited to work and excited to embrace that goal."
Vesey has come a long way since entering the league as a hot shot rookie. And the lessons the 28-year-old has learned over the past five years will serve him and his teammates well.
"I'm more mature and just going through the past five years, the good and the bad, adds to that maturity level and makes me more experienced," he said. "I've learned from a lot of older guys along the way and I'm hoping to take that into this team."