NEWARK, NJ – Jimmy Vesey knows the situation.
Vesey, 28, signed a player trial contract at the end of the summer to attend Devils training camp in hopes of securing a contract with the team.
On Thursday, the day before the team’s first ice practice, the entire situation hit Vesey, who came to a crossroads in his hockey career.
“To be honest, before the first practice I was nervous. I didn’t go to bed for a while (the day before),” he admitted. “I don’t have a contract so I’m playing for my life. It was the first day on the ice, the first official day of training. I wanted to get off to a good start.
Apparently, the lack of sleep did not affect his performance on the ice, however. Vesey scored one goal and added two assists in the Devils’ scrum on Saturday afternoon to help his side, Team A, secure a 4-2 victory over Team B at the Prudential Center.
“Every time you play in a game it’s nice to be on the scoresheet,” Vesey said after the scrum. “I thought it was a good day, and a good day for our line.
“The first acting action for everyone here. I really enjoyed playing with (Michael McLeod) and Tyce (Thompson). I thought we worked well together.”
Video: Jimmy Vesey | CAMP CRU 9.25.21
It was an unusual summer for Vesey. The Hobey Baker 2016 recipient for Best College Hockey Player (Harvard) got off to an early NHL career scoring 16 goals as a rookie in 2016-17 with the New York Rangers. He followed that up with 17 goals in each of the following two seasons.
But his goals scored over the next two seasons fell to nine (Buffalo, 2019-20) and just five last season (Toronto / Vancouver, 2020-21). Vesey reflected on what has been two tumultuous years.
“Since leaving New York, I feel like I’ve been lost in the reshuffle so to speak,” he said. “I don’t think I played for a head coach who necessarily knew me too well.
“It’s a tough situation when you’re not producing the way you want. To be honest, it sucks being in limbo every day to go to the rink. Am I in alignment? Am I out of alignment? Am I playing five minutes or am I going to play 12? Hard situation.”
Vesey entered the summer of 2021 without a contract. June became July became August became September. As the NHL season got closer and closer to the start, he worried about his future in the league. That was, at least, until the signing with New Jersey on September 15, at the dawn of training camp.
“I tried to stay as calm as possible and work hard,” he said of the offseason. “Obviously the stress builds up over time, not knowing where you’re going to end up. I just tried to put my head down, to work. I’m happy to be here and very grateful too. I J ‘hope it works. “
Performances like the one he gave on Saturday will go a long way in making it work. He had a notable effort that certainly caught the attention of the head coach.
“He took advantage of his offensive opportunities today. He had a very good training (Friday). That’s really all you ask of a player like that who comes to camp, ”said Devils head coach Lindy Ruff, who coached Vesey in New York as an assistant coach. “You’re going to have to show it. You are going to have to be noticed. I thought today was a day where he was noticed for a lot of good things.”
Video: Stand out | REPORT
Ironically, it was Ruff who set Vesey on a path that could save his NHL career. In their final season with the Rangers in 2018-19, Ruff put Vesey in the penalty box or for the first time in his career. Over the next three years, the 6-3, 202-pound forward excelled in duty. And it was his keen insight into killing that partly interested the Devils in bringing him to their camp, along with his other attributes.
“He has a lot of experience in the NHL. Physically he’s a strong player, Ruff said. “His positional. He tried to play the game well (Saturday). He didn’t make any big mistakes. I think he handled the puck well. His energy was good.”
Ruff told media on Wednesday that Vesey may have to adapt his game to a role in the Last 6, which means he should focus more on his defensive responsibilities and PK work than on being flashy and scoring. . However, the team certainly won’t be upset if he can still show those hands – as he did by putting in his tally and setting two more scores.
“A player who has a scrum like this on his first day and does well, it builds confidence,” said Ruff. “We could see even better things. We all know we want him to adapt his game, but if he wants to produce offensively and show numbers, that’s a big bonus for us.”
While Vesey is happy with his performance on Saturday, he’s been in the league long enough, five years, to know he needs to continue to make a good impression in order to land a contract with New Jersey.
“When I first came into the league, people would always ask me ‘how’s the physical side of 82 games?’,” Vesey said. “And I always told them the hardest side was the mental side. Keeping your focus and keeping a positive mindset for such a long season there are ups and downs. The ups can be really high. and the lows can be very low.
“I’m older so I understand that now. I’m just trying to be part of the team and help these guys.”
Vesey should sleep well tonight.
Video: Vesey has 3 points in the first Devils Camp Scrimmage