Jimmy Vesey is a different player in his Rangers comeback

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The long and winding road has brought Jimmy Vesey back to where his NHL journey started. Only this time without all — or any — of the hoopla. Only this time without the guarantee of not only a roster spot, but of a contract. 

Six years after the winger signed with the Rangers as a celebrated free agent out of Harvard in 2016 after spurning offers from both Nashville, which had drafted him 66th overall in 2012, and from Buffalo, which had subsequently traded for his rights, Vesey is attending the Blueshirts’ camp on a professional tryout, hoping to earn a job as a fourth-line, penalty-killing specialist. 

At least two-thirds of NHL clubs had been in on the free-agent derby. It was kind of a public circus. Nashville GM David Poile charged that he had been misled. Vesey reported to the Rangers and played for much of his rookie season under a spotlight. 

Now, crickets. 

“To be candid with you, that hype never came from me,” Vesey told The Post before an impressive performance that included a power-play goal and strong penalty-kill work in Monday’s 4-1 exhibition opening victory over the Islanders at the Garden. “I always envisioned myself as a 20-goal guy and when I left here after three years, I thought I pretty much had figured it out. 

“Then I had a tough year in Buffalo and spiraled after that.” 

Vesey is not rewriting history here. He shied away from attention as much as possible. He was soft-spoken then, as now, prone to elongated scoring slumps through which he was eaten alive by bouts of self-doubt. 

New York Rangers Jimmy Vesey skates down ice in the third period
Jimmy Vesey was expected to be a top-six dynamo, but struggled to crack the 20-goal mark.
Jason Szenes for the New York Post

“You know the big thing for me has always been confidence,” said the 29-year-old, who added that he had worked with a few mental-skills specialists in the past, “but didn’t hit it off with any of them. 

“I’m still open to the possibility.” 

Vesey recorded 16, 17 and 17 goals, respectively, as a top-six/top-nine in his first Broadway tour and was one of the team’s best players in the 2017 first-round upset victory over Montreal. Sent to the Sabres following 2018-19 for a third-round draft pick, the winger recorded only 20 points (9-11). Then came a lost year split between Toronto and Vancouver. 

“I was up in Canada during the [2020-21] COVID year, locked down, by myself,” said Vesey, who put up a combined 10 points (5-5) in 50 contests. “I didn’t play well. It was very hard on me. 

“It was a miserable experience.” 

But Vesey recreated himself in a different image following that season. He signed as a free agent with New Jersey and became a very effective support player and penalty-killer, joining Michael McLeod on the first PK unit while chipping in 15 points (8-7) altogether. 

“After the year in Canada, I took ownership of the fact that I had to re-invent myself as a fourth-line guy who could kill penalties,” he said. “I’m not one for pumping my own tires, but I think I did a pretty good job of that.” 

Indeed, Vesey was effective enough in that role that it was surprising that he was not dealt as a rental to a playoff-bound team at the deadline. 

New York Rangers Jimmy Vesey (26) when the New York Rangers held their training camp
Jimmy Vesey returns to the Rangers looking to snag a penalty-killing specialist role.
Robert Sabo

“Well, it almost … it was close,” he said, without divulging juicy details. 

So now it is back to the future after 422 NHL career games for Vesey, who seems to be competing with Dryden Hunt and Ryan Carpenter — a PK guy who played two years for head coach Gerard Gallant in Vegas — for a roster spot on a team that will likely keep only one spare forward. It would appear that there will only be room for two of that group, assuming that Ryan Reaves’ job is not in jeopardy. 

Vesey said that he had offers from other clubs to attend camp on a tryout, presumably from somewhere there’d be an easier path to a contract, but he chose to return to a place he likens to home. 

“I’m the type of person … I’m shy, I kind of like the feeling of home,” he said. “And Chris [Drury] was the assistant GM when I was here. He knows what I’m made of and am capable of contributing. Comfortability is important for me. Plus, I’m at a point in my career where I want to play for a team that can win the Cup. The Rangers are a legitimate contender.” 

As Vesey tells it, he is essentially auditioning for the role held by Tyler Motte following his acquisition at the deadline. Motte departed as a free agent after the cap-stressed Blueshirts could not accommodate his requested price. 

“I know management really valued the role Motte played here. I think I’m of that same mold and can fill that spot,” Vesey said. “I can skate, can kill penalties and I can still score if I shoot the puck.” 

Six years after the hype, three years after leaving, Jimmy Vesey is taking another crack at Broadway. 

“If I look at my career, I’m fine with where I’m at,” said the once-and-again No. 26. “I know what my assets are and what I have to do. 

“It’s good to be back.”

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