By Sean Hartnett
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It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for Rangers rookie Jimmy Vesey.
In mid-August, the 23-year-old Harvard grad went through the blitz of fielding sales pitches from teams that pulled out all the stops in an effort to land the 2015-16 Hobey Baker Award winner. At one point during the process, he met with seven teams over the course of two days.
Reigning Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane tagged along with the Chicago Blackhawks’ contingent to meet with Vesey to try to sway him to the Windy City. John Tavares did the same when the Isles made their pitch. The Boston Bruins hosted Vesey at their brand new, state-of-the-art practice facility in Brighton, Massachusetts, where he met with a number of players and was extolled the virtues of playing in his hometown. Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby picked up the phone and tried to convince him to join the Stanley Cup champs. Cory Schneider and Kyle Palmieri were part of the Devils’ pitch, while No. 1 overall draft pick Auston Matthews attempted to sell the opportunity of being part of a youthful group that could change the perennial losing atmosphere in Toronto.
In the end, he was won over by the pitch of Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton, assistant GM Chris Drury and forward Kevin Hayes, who went through a similar free agent sweepstakes in 2014. Hayes spent the summer working out and skating with Vesey in Massachusetts. This gave the Rangers an inside track as Vesey was able to pick Hayes’ brain on the process of elected free agency and all aspects of playing for the Rangers.
“I thought Jeff and Chris were really good in the meetings,” Vesey told WFAN.com. “They definitely made a great sales pitch. Starting with Jeff, down to all the players and the staff, they have definitely made me feel at home. With Kevin Hayes here and stuff like that, I just thought it was great for me to come here. Any time you come to a team and you have someone that you know in the locker room, it definitely helps. Kevin has showed me the ropes and made me feel comfortable with the guys. I’m grateful to have him with me to start my career.
“I couldn’t be happier with my decision,” he continued. “It’s a great Original Six team. All the guys in here are good guys. They’ve all welcomed me with such open arms. It’s been awesome and I’m just looking forward to keeping it going.”
With Madison Square Garden and the bright lights of Manhattan as his new home, Vesey’s NHL career is off to a very good start. He has three goals in six games, including two game-winners. He has also been plugged into a top-six role by head coach Alain Vigneault. Everything on the ice seems to come with ease. The 6-foot-3 left wing plays a committed 200-foot game, doesn’t show an ounce of hesitancy and makes intelligent reads. Though he said his toughest adjustment has been the process of finding a more permanent place to live, he’s enjoying the feeling of coming to work at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
“You definitely feel the buzz of the city walking to the game,” Vesey said. “It’s awesome to see all the fans, especially when they did the blue carpet thing. It was amazing to see all the fans and everyone in their blue jerseys. After I scored my first goal against San Jose, the cheers I got from the crowd were awesome. I’ll never forget that feeling. It’s a great place to play and the fans here appreciate hockey. It’s probably the best arena in the world and I’m looking forward to being here. I’m still looking to become a New Yorker. I haven’t gotten a chance to do much around the city because I’m staying in a hotel and haven’t found an apartment yet.”
Spending much of his time on a line with alternate captain Derek Stepan and creative right wing Mats Zuccarello, Vesey said he appreciates the pointers being handed out by two Blueshirt veterans and their pass-first nature.
“Step and Zucc have been awesome to me,” Vesey said. “It’s been an easy transition playing with them. They’re so smart out there and really slow the game down when they have the puck. They’re always looking pass when I’m open and put the puck on my stick. It’s good as a young guy to play with two experienced guys that know the game so well and are a great help to me in the locker room. Zucc sits next to me and we’re always talking about stuff that goes on when we’re on the ice. At practice we’re always having a good time. He’s definitely a good personality for the team and a really funny guy. It’s been awesome to get to know him.”
While Vesey makes the best of hotel life, he certainly feels at home inside the Rangers’ dressing room and is benefiting from his judicious decision to join the Blueshirts.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey