Growing up a New York Rangers fan and living in nearby Darien, Connecticut, it was certainly difficult for Hugh Jessiman
to wipe the smile off his face this afternoon. Jessiman's self-described 'most exciting moment of my life' took place when Rangers Vice President of Player Personnel Tom Renney
announced his name as New York's first round draft selection of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft at Gaylord Entertainment Center.
"This is pretty much out of a written script," beamed the 6-4, 200-pound Dartmouth winger moments after being selected 12th overall. "It's basically what I had dreamed of my entire life. Playing street hockey in my back yard, I pretty much dreamed of playing with guys like (Mark) Messier and (Alex) Kovalev. Just to be wearing this Blueshirt jersey right now and to now be a part of the organization ... I couldn't ask for more."
Jessiman had an impressive freshman at Dartmouth and quickly became a top name mentioned among the NHL scouting circles. The 20th rated North American skater (as ranked by NHL Central Scouting) led his club with 23 goals and ranked second on the team with 47 points in 34 games. But more than the offensive totals or his team nickname (Huge Specimen), what set him apart from most of his competition was his rare blend and combination of size, toughness and skill.
"I'm lucky to have some instincts," he noted. "The passing and vision that I have on the ice is something that I'm lucky to have. The skating and special skills are things that I am constantly looking to improve. I try to learn as much as I can. I'd say over the past few years, especially this year, I gained more confidence as the season went along.
"I'm more of a playmaking power forward," he continued. "I do like scoring goals, but I see myself as more of a 'set-up player.' I can put the puck in the net, but I certainly like to make plays as well. I'm also lucky to be close to 6-5 and that obviously helps my game as well ... both physically and protecting the puck."
Growing up a big Rangers fan only added another dimension of excitement to his Jessiman's special moment.
"The Rangers have always been my favorite team," he said. "My buddies and I grew up following them closely. Other than living in the New York area, one of the main reasons why I became such a big fan was the experience of going to Madison Square Garden. The fans, the atmosphere ... it doesn't get better than that. It's one of the things that gets me pumped up about going to a Rangers game. The possibility of The Garden being my home arena down the road is pretty incredible."
Rangers amateur scout Bob Crocker
covers the New England region and has watched Jessiman develop into the smooth, yet powerful player that he is.
"The growth and development of Hugh has been amazing to watch over the past year," said Crocker. "He has excellent size, terrific hands and great vision on the ice and has really sharpened his game. We had him ranked higher than 12th, so we are thrilled to have the chance to selected him where we did."
"We're ecstatic with this pick," said Renney. "We have what we feel is a prototypical 'Ranger' going forward. I think our fans are going to love this guy. I like everything about his game. This kid just plays hockey. He goes hard to the net and has great skill for a big guy. That can sometimes be misleading. Hugh is a great skater and has great hands. He plays the wall hard. He's not an easy guy to play against in any way, shape or form. We're pretty excited about this package that he brings."
Amid the praise, Jessiman was able to separate his excitement for a brief moment, adding a realistic viewpoint when asked about his timetable to jump to the next level.
"For me, this is just a start. I know that I have to continue to work on my game and improve on a lot of things. This is something I had always dreamed of. Now it's a reality. I have to stay focused and work towards achieving my next goal - playing in the NHL."