Over four years after being drafted by the Nashville Predators out of Harvard, eight months after announcing he would not be signing with the team and four months after choosing to sign an entry-level contract with the New York Rangers, forward Jimmy Vesey returns to Bridgestone Arena to face the Predators.
And he knows what’s likely coming from the fans.
“Probably not the best reception,” Vesey said about tonight’s game. “I already played in Buffalo and that was not exactly a warm welcome, but this might be the worst of it. I’m just going to try to focus on the game and just keep it simple out there.”
After learning that Vesey would not sign with them, the Predators traded his rights to the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick. The Sabres fans did not treat him nicely when the Rangers came to Buffalo two weeks ago.
Vesey’s free agency became the talk of the hockey world as the offseason slowed down into August. Celebrities, players and teams all made their pitches as to why he should join their team. Eventually, he settled on the Rangers over teams like his hometown Boston Bruins, the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs.
With seemingly the entire hockey community trying to reach him over the Summer, Vesey tried his best to block out the noise.
“I think it definitely took on a life of its own and kind of blew up a little more than I would have wanted it to, maybe than it should have,” he said. “At the end of the day, I just tried to stay away from the media and social media and stuff like that and just worry about myself and my training, just glad that stuff’s all in the past and we’re almost halfway through the season, so it’s kind of behind me at this point.”
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said he doesn’t think the smattering of boos will shake his young forward at all.
“I don’t think he’ll care one bit,” Vigneault said. “He’s here to play a game, and every time, I think this is the third time this has happened, he hasn’t shown at all that he’s been at all influenced by it. If the fans get their money’s worth, fine for them, but I know it’s not going to bother the young man. He’s here to play a good game, and that’s what he’s going to do for us.”
Even though all eyes will be on Vesey, he won’t be the only player returning to his old stomping grounds. Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein will be making yet another return to Bridgestone Arena after being traded from the Predators in November 2014 for Michael Del Zotto.
Klein said his returns to Music City are always meaningful.
“I recognize a lot of faces throughout the arena, and obviously, as time goes by, they lose more and more guys that I’ve played with, but it’s always the core group of guys that I know and friends with,” he said. “It’s always special to come back here and play.”
Having seen how Minnesota Wild defenseman and former Predator Ryan Suter was received when he returned to Nashville for the first time in 2013, he knows Vesey is in for a cold reunion. However, he thinks Vesey knows how to handle it.
“It’s one of those things, it was a decision on his part where he thought he could come in and play and he’s done a great job on our end,” he said. “I think he’ll just go play the game. He got a few boos in Buffalo and he handled it really well, he’s a mature kid for his age and I see no issues with that.”
This season, Vesey has 10 goals and seven assists with the Rangers, and is getting to play with some top-level talent. He’s ready to keep that going tonight.
“I think I’ve gotten a good chance to play with some high-end players,” Vesey said. “As a rookie, I’m just trying to keep it simple, at the beginning especially. I’ve been the beneficiary of playing with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, I’m kind of the one finishing off plays. Now, I think I can play more my style and carry the puck and stuff like that.”
“My confidence is growing at this point.”
The Predators take on the Rangers tonight at 7 pm at Bridgestone Arena.