Versatile Vesey.

A well-rounded player who is relied on in important defensive situations, while also flashing his offensive instincts in big moments, Jimmy Vesey has evolved as a key two-way forward for the Rangers.

Over his eight-year NHL career, the Rangers winger has come through with some clutch performances. It's been a staple throughout the entirety of his career, so much so that 27 of his 94 career goals have been game-deciding strikes.

Wednesday night’s stingy, heavyweight contest between the Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning was no different. Following a first period where just 10 total shots were exchanged between teams and the score remained 0-0, Vesey broke through early in the second period with the game’s opening strike.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound winger collected a pass from Barclay Goodrow, drove to the right faceoff circle and zipped a backhanded shot nearside and over the shoulder of Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. After a second period tally from Rangers forward Jonny Brodzinski, Vesey would go on to ice an eventual 3-1 victory with an empty-net goal at 18:59 in the third period.

“It’s good to see them go in,” Vesey said postgame. “It can’t be the same guys [scoring] every night. I thought it was big for our line and Jonny’s line to get rewarded. Hopefully, that’s something we can build on and springboard into this second half [of the season.]"

This season, Vesey’s line has earned the trust from Rangers Head Coach Peter Laviolette to frequently be matched against the opponent’s top line.

While the focus of Vesey’s line is primarily to defend, force turnovers and frustrate the opposing line, games like Wednesday's are just another example of the dual threat a player like Vesey presents.

“He’s a guy that can play anywhere in the lineup,” said Vincent Trocheck, who has known Vesey since their junior hockey days playing in Boston. “He has the skill for the first line, he has the intelligence and wherewithal to forecheck against top lines. We all know how good of a hockey player he is. He’s confident, he’s comfortable, he’s having success and gaining confidence. He always plays the right way and does the right things.”

Wednesday night’s showing from Vesey was a testament to the evolution the 30-year-old has made throughout his career and in the time since he departed from Harvard.

As a senior in 2016, Vesey won the Hobey Baker Award, which recognizes the top player in college hockey. He was known as one of the top up-and-coming offensive talents on the horizon.

After opting not to sign with Nashville out of college, Vesey pursued free agency and signed with the Rangers in August 2016. He would go on to spend the first three years of his career in New York.

“It was a stressful time in my life,” Vesey said of that summer following his senior year of college. “Looking back, I was 23 years old, but I hadn’t really ever been away from home. In a lot of senses, I was still very young. It weighed on me a lot. It got a lot more attention than I expected.”

Like most young players entering the league, there was a learning curve and an adjustment period for Vesey. The bountiful production he was used to generating back in college was significantly harder to come by in the NHL.

As Vesey’s career progressed, he eventually made stops with the Sabres (2019-20), Toronto (2020-21), Vancouver (2020-21) and New Jersey (2021-22). Both with New Jersey and with the Rangers in 2022, Vesey earned roster spots off professional tryouts (PTOs), which is no easy feat to accomplish once, let alone twice.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is having made two teams on PTOs,” Vesey said. “Every year, there’s a lot of guys on PTOs. The success rate is not very high. You almost have to go in and do everything right for it to work out. It’s something I’m most proud of - just my resiliency, hard work and determination. It’s weighed on me a lot, but I’m happy I got out on the other side of things.”

Throughout those various stints, he gradually evolved his game as a player. Vesey integrated a defensive focus into his game and has also become a fixture on the Rangers’ penalty kill. And while his line is utilized most often in a forechecking role, he still finds his moments to flex the offensive prowess he naturally possesses.

“I know Jimmy’s background from when he left college,” Laviolette said. “I know the type of player that he was offensively. In my past teams, I’ve seen lots of players who are talented offensively, and who had accolades for offense, that are now some of the best defensive players. I’ve coached some of those players in the past. I think he’s a responsible player defensively that thinks the game well. I think he could move up the lineup if we needed him to; I know he did last year. There’s a value of what his line brings to the table. I do think that he’s a smart, talented offensive player who is good at defense as well.”

While it took some time and adjustments to bolster the defensive and hard-hitting side of his game, Vesey maintained his knack for showing up in the big moments and seizing the opportunity. Wednesday night was another example of that, and of the value a player like Vesey presents, especially as the regular season winds down and the magnitude of each remaining contest grows.

“He just keeps on getting better as a player,” teammate Chris Kreider said. “He continues getting more well-rounded and adding aspects to his game. He can really do anything that you ask of him - playing anywhere in the lineup, any role. He can play special teams, even strength, defend the lead, go out and score a big goal.

“He’s an integral part of our team that’s trying to win hockey games.”