Vesey ended a months-long review of his free agency options that had big-time hockey media on the edge of its collective seat. That ended on Aug. 20 when he signed with the New York Rangers.
“I’m from a hockey town, and I definitely wanted to play in a city where they appreciate hockey,” Vesey told New York Post writer Brett Cyrgalis, during Rangers training camp. “I think New York offers that.”
He was still in camp as of Oct. 4.
The former South Shore King, who saw his hockey stock rise while playing with the USPHL-founding Kings, grew up in North Reading, Mass., son of former pro hockey player Jim Vesey. Jim had seen four games with the hometown Boston Bruins in 1991-92 after a successful career at Merrimack College. He played 11 earlier games with the St. Louis Blues between 1989 and 1990.
Jim retired in 1996, just before Jimmy turned 3, and while younger brother Nolan was just over a year old. But it was clear the Vesey residence would be a hockey household.
Jimmy rose through the youth ranks until attending the Belmont Hill School.
His standout career with Belmont Hill earned him a commitment to Harvard University.
Still, though, Vesey was largely an unknown commodity to the NHL world. He took that big step forward that he needed by playing for the South Shore Kings. Vesey popped in 53 goals that year and finished with 99 combined regular season and playoff points.
“The guys on the team were great, we had a great team. Coaches Harlow, [Anthony] Esdale and [strength and conditioning coach] Brian McDonough were huge influences on my hockey career,” said Vesey, in an exclusive interview this past March with USA Jr. Hockey Magazine. “That year, I took a really big step and kind of got serious about hockey and I got my name out there as a prospect. It helped me to transition to college hockey as well.”
“His on-ice play speaks for itself – I don’t think I’ve ever had a player of his offensive ability, his offensive instincts and his hockey sense,” Harlow added. “When he was playing for me, it was like a man against boys.”
Playing in a league with physically larger and older players was extremely beneficial to helping Vesey adapt to what he’d see throughout his future career.
“I played juniors to play against bigger and older guys to get ready for college. I stepped in and made a contribution right away, and I attribute that to the Kings,” said Vesey, in an interview with the USPHL Network. “That was one of the best years of hockey in my life as far as development.”
Harlow, who stepped down just after the 2015-16 season as head coach but retained his job as Kings general manager, still considers Vesey in rare company with Minnesota Wild player Charlie Coyle as among his best-ever players.
“Jimmy’s season with me started in April . He came here and worked with Brian and transformed his whole body,” said Harlow. “Brian got him in unbelievable shape. He made the ride down here every day from North Reading. The off-ice commitment was first and foremost with him.”
Vesey got to know Coach Harlow and was sold because he knew Harlow believed in him and would give him the ice time to flourish.
“I chose the Kings because I picked a coach who I knew I would play for, and play a lot for. For a guy looking to play junior hockey, I think at the end of the day, you want to go somewhere where you will play a lot,” added Vesey. “Staying close to home was also great. I’m not really someone who likes to move away from home. I didn’t feel it was 100 percent necessary for me to get to where I wanted to be in my career.”
During that season, Vesey began to turn a lot of heads, including those of Nashville Predators scouts. They drafted Vesey in the 2012 NHL Draft.
“I wasn’t the greatest player going into that year. I wasn’t on very many radars before I went to the Kings,” Vesey said. “Every couple of weekends, there were showcases where all the teams in the league would play against each other. There were always scouts in attendance. When you centralize everyone like that, you know scouts will be there looking at not just one guy, but every guy out there.”
From the Kings, it was on to Harvard University, where his game just continued to mature and his name continued to gain steam.
From World Junior Championship Gold in 2013, to ECAC All-Rookie, two ECAC Player of the Year awards and, just this past winter, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award – Harvard University was more happy to give Vesey a platform to excel.
“The Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes” became a popular web headline after Vesey announced he would not sign with Nashville last spring. One writer even called Vesey the “savior of the summer news cycle.”
The Predators, not wanting to walk away empty-handed, traded Vesey’s negotiating rights to Buffalo. Rumors were floating around that Vesey might sign with the Sabres to play with friend and fellow Massachusetts product Jack Eichel. With Jim Vesey working as a scout for Toronto (which drafted brother Nolan, a University of Maine player, in 2015), there was speculation that Jimmy might wear the Maple Leaf.
But those neon lights on Broadway shine brightly, and Vesey could not resist the pull to play for a big-market team with a grand history.
Against other NHL rookies in a tournament at Traverse City, Vesey had seven points. In his first preseason game on Sept. 29, Vesey put three shots on goal, but was unable to score. Vesey, of course, has always been known for working up to glory – witness his progression from 11 goals as a Harvard freshman to 32 as a junior.
That progression stems, in large part, to the huge progression he experienced as a player with the South Shore Kings.
The memories of his year with the USPHL’s Kings will never fade, nor will many of the connections he made that season.
“Looking back to that year, Coach Harlow was everyone’s favorite. We’re serious about the game, but we had a good time after the game, laughing about the one-liners he broke out,” Vesey recalled. “I made some great friendships that year and I’ll be friends with them for the rest of my life.”