By Sean Hartnett
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Super prospect Jimmy Vesey captured the attention of the entire hockey world when he elected for free agency, as teams put on a full-court press to sign the 23-year-old.
The Rangers garnered jealous stares from 29 other franchises when the Harvard graduate signed with them on Aug. 19.
After impressing at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament, Vesey finally showed Rangers fans what he can do against professionals during his preseason debut on Thursday night against the Devils. The Rangers would go on to win 3-1.
Vesey skated for 16:33, including 5:20 on the power play. He registered three shots on goal and one hit. The 6-foot-3 left wing showed all the characteristics that made general managers fawn over him.
On his first shift, he exploded on a breakaway and drew a slashing penalty. Skating on the opposite wing of Rick Nash and centered by Kevin Hayes, Vesey demonstrated creativity, physicality, snappy decision making and a quick release throughout the night.
The 2015-16 Hobey Baker Award winner not only owns an NHL-sized body, he knows how to use it. In the second period, he demonstrated his strength by flattening Devils captain Andy Greene, who was lining up a hit of his own. Vesey displayed excellent acceleration on a third-period end-to-end rush, going hard to the net and drawing a cross-checking penalty. He continued to create scoring chances for linemates and played sound in the defensive end.
“The pace is another step up and guys are bigger and stronger out there, so another adjustment for me, but I’m just trying to take it in stride and learn from my linemates and just keep getting better every day,” Vesey said. “I think communication is something that’s got to be big at this level, talking in your own end and stuff like that. I think a guy like Rick, he’s always harping that on the bench to always talk to your linemates — and I think that’s a very useful skill in today’s game. I think that’s one thing I’m trying to work on.”
Vesey wasn’t the only Ranger to make a big impression on Thursday night. Forward Brandon Pirri recorded three points, including two goals. Through two preseason games, the 25-year-old has tallied three goals and two assists. He has recorded a point on each of the Rangers’ four power play goals so far. Head coach Alain Vigneault has praised Pirri for his versatility and the former 22-goal man stands a strong chance of making the Blueshirts’ opening-night roster.
“He certainly has been very effective on the power play,” Vigneault said. “You could tell that he has a good release.”
Defenseman John Gilmour notched a goal and an assist, each coming on the power play. The 23-year-old logged 21:24, including 6:10 on the power play. Forward Nathan Gerbe made a big impact on the Rangers’ penalty kill, skating for 5:32 as the Blueshirts killed off all five man-down situations. He also recorded an assist and registered two hits. The Rangers are a perfect 11-for-11 in shorthanded situations through their first two preseason games and will look to continue their strong special teams play in Saturday’s rematch with the Devils at Prudential Center.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey