Jimmy Vesey getting long-awaited playoff return with Rangers
Before the Rangers began practice Wednesday, ahead of their regular-season finale Thursday, Jimmy Vesey scanned the locker room and picked up a mail.
He thought he played the fewest postseason games among his Rangers teammates, but he wasn’t sure.
Vesey also knew his number (12) and the number of seasons since his last appearance (five).
He knew everyone who played during the Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals had already logged 20 last season.
Maybe there was a chance he played more than defenseman Nico Mikkola, Vesey thought.
But when he checked in, Mikkola reminded him of his 16 with the Blues over the previous two seasons, and reality began to settle.
Vesey, who will turn 30 in May, has the least postseason experience on the Rangers’ roster.
Their 21 skaters and goalies have appeared in 866 combined playoff games, but Vesey has only 1.4 percent of that.
The last time he made the postseason, he was a Rangers rookie in 2016-17.
Everything was easy back then, when playoff berths for the Hobe Baker Award winner fresh out of Harvard were a regular occurrence.
But then the Rangers began to rebuild at the next trade deadline, Vesey was traded to the Sabres, his career took off and he began to wonder if — not when — he would make the playoffs again.
That would provide a first-round series that begins next week against either the Devils or the Hurricanes.
“You certainly don’t envision yourself missing the playoffs five years in a row,” Vesey told the Post. “I think everybody envisions themselves in the playoffs every year, and then when it’s not five years in a row, it’s a little disappointing.
“For me, especially, the last few years, not knowing if I’ll get another chance at it, it’s exciting for me.”
The entire 2022-23 season has, in fact, evoked similar sentiments from Vesey. It started with a professional tryout contract — the second straight season he needed one to tie him to an NHL organization — before he made the Rangers and earned a contract extension in January, which was a relief because he was “always here to stay.” wanted.”
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Vesey spent time on the first line until Vladimir Taranceko and Patrick Kane were traded at the deadline.
He then slid seamlessly onto the fourth unit, becoming a key presence on the penalty kill.
When Kane missed time last week, Vesey again skated with the top line.
He has 11 goals and 14 assists entering the Rangers’ finale against the Maple Leafs on Thursday.
“I think he brought everything,” defensive end Ryan Lindgren told the Post. “He’s kind of played all over the lineup. He has provided the offense. He has been excellent on the penalty kill. “
But Vesey still had another postseason loss on his resume.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, he said.
It wasn’t for lack of NHL experience, either.
He logged 12 playoff games with the Rangers in 2017, when they defeated the Canadiens in the first round, before the Senators eliminated them in the next round.
The following season, at the trade deadline, the Blueshirts traded away Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh and changed the direction of their franchise.
There was the infamous letter to fans from president Glenn Sader and general manager Jeff Gorton.
In that letter, there was a promise to build “our next Stanley Cup contender,” but there was no time frame for how long that might take.
Vesey still thought the Rangers had a good team.
But the final two years of his first stint with the Rangers did not lead to a winning record or postseason lead.
The Rangers’ second straight playoff appearance means something to everyone, head coach Gerard Gallant said, because “it’s not easy to make the playoffs anymore” — not even with 100 points.
Lindgren added that some of the Rangers didn’t get their first true taste until last season, during their run to the conference finals.
But Vesey wasn’t there for that.
He also understands how difficult it can be to reach the 16-team quest toward the top of the NHL. Last year at this time, Vesey missed the playoffs with the Devils, and again he didn’t know what the next season would bring.
That’s why the postseason was on his mind again Wednesday morning as it neared an opening date.
“My rookie year, looking back, I was really a kid, so if I could get through that, I’m sure I’ll be fine now,” Vesey said.