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Jimmy Vesey learning plenty from preseason

Rangers rookie forward adjusting to pace of NHL game, size of opponents

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers rookie forward Jimmy Vesey took a hit into the glass from Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas on Monday, one that left an imprint on the bridge of his nose, which was still there the next day.

Gudas was called for a boarding major and also got a game misconduct, but when Vesey talked about the hit on Tuesday, all he cared about was what he gained from the incident. 

"I feel pretty good with the pace, I think I'm keeping up, but down low it's so tight and so tight checking that there's not a lot of room to make plays," Vesey said, "so you have to be able to spin off guys and protect the puck to make room for yourself."

Vesey didn't spin off Gudas, and turned into him prior to contact. Hit or no hit, pain or no pain, Vesey took it as a lesson of what not to do.

That's good news.

The more lessons Vesey gets and the quicker he picks it all up, the faster he'll become the impact player the Rangers believe he can be this season.

"Obviously with any young guy coming into the League, we all went through it, there are some things he will learn and he'll gather up," Rangers center Derek Stepan said, "but he seems to gather things quickly, which is a really good sign."

There's a lot to gather up, a lot to learn. Vesey might be finished at Harvard University, where he had a decorated four-year career capped by winning the Hobey Baker Award last season, but he's not done with school yet.

He's in a new school now. It's NHL University. It can be unforgiving, with hits like the one he took from Gudas on Monday and games like the one he played against the Flyers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

Hours after being named the Rangers' best rookie in training camp as voted on by the media, Vesey had his toughest game of the preseason, with no shots and minimal touches in a 4-2 loss.

Video: NYR@PHI: Stepan connects with Vesey to tie the game

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault chalked it up to Vesey running out of steam after a long training camp, which included playing at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament before he even got to New York.

Vesey led the Traverse City tournament with five goals and 20 shots on goal. He was tied for first with seven points. He finished the Rangers' preseason schedule with one goal in four games.

"I sort of felt training camp caught up to him a little bit, didn't have the same jump that he had early on," Vigneault said following the game Thursday. "But in the other games prior to this, you saw all the upside people had been talking about, the gritty play, the going to the net, the making the plays.

"If I put [Thursday night] aside, I really like how he's played throughout training camp."

Along the way ,Vesey has gained valuable insight into the small things that add up, like time and space on the NHL rink and how limited both are. It's nothing like college hockey even for players like Vesey, who is listed at a generous 6-foot-3, 207 pounds.

"Once you get the puck here it seems like guys are right on top of you," Vesey said. "In college, I was on the bigger end of the spectrum in terms of size, and now I'm kind of just average. It's adjusting to the strength of the guys and learning how to absorb that first hit and spin off."

Vesey is figuring out how to use his skills, including his speed and hockey sense, to gain an edge. He has made a positive impression.

"You can see his playmaking ability with the puck and his ability to see the ice and sense where the puck needs to go, where he needs to be," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "He can fly out there with and without the puck. So far he hasn't seemed to be too lost in the 'D' zone."

The hardest part for Vesey, though, is trying to become a dynamic NHL player while being targeted for potentially unreasonable outside expectations because of how he came into the League. His grace period might be shorter than other rookies because of that.

"It definitely blew up more than I thought," Vesey said of his summer. "I would have liked it to kind of be more low key. That would be more my style."

The hockey world was instead infatuated with Vesey this summer. He was a 23-year-old who spurned the team that drafted him (Nashville Predators) and the team that traded for him (Buffalo Sabres) to become an unrestricted free agent.

Though Vesey was simply exercising his collectively bargained right, he was also being treated like a veteran in line for a life-changing contract despite never taking a stride in an NHL game.

He was wooed by the Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders. Established NHL stars like John Tavares and Patrick Kane were in meetings with him, pitching their teams and how he would fit.

"I don't think he ever meant for that kind of attention," McDonagh said. "It's just the nature of our hockey world."

Vesey said he's trying to ignore the outside expectations.

"Any time you get worried about point totals and stuff like that, you just get so caught up in your own mind that your play gets affected negatively," he said. "I'm just trying to go out here and stick in the NHL, help the Rangers."

That's easy to say now, because Vesey hasn't played in a real game yet. He's learning real lessons, though, the kind that should help him when the games start to count next Thursday, when the Rangers open the season at home against the Islanders.

The quicker he picks them all up, the better chance he has of meeting the expectations -- and avoiding face-planting hits into the glass.

"There's no secret why everybody wanted him," Stepan said. "He's a real player."

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