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Jan 3, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers left wing Jimmy Vesey (26) controls the puck against Buffalo Sabres defenseman Cody Franson (6) during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Vesey came hot out of the gate in his rookie debut season, but lost some steam in the middle of the year. What do the New York Rangers have in store for No. 26 this season?

Jimmy Vesey was one of the most sought after college UFAs in recent history after he turned down an offer from the Nashville Predators, who originally drafted the winger in the third round, 66th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. After four years at a non-traditional NCAA program in Harvard and delaying signing an NHL contract, Vesey, of course, chose to sign with the New York Rangers.

Vesey was off and running with the Rangers earning a spot right out of training camp, and going on to score seven goals and 12 points in his first 20 games. Vesey seemed to flourish while playing good top six minutes with players like Rick Nash. But, as many predicted, Vesey seemed to slow down in the middle of the season, no doubt a by-product of being the most rigorous and longest season he’s played at all.

Pair that with some demotions by Alain Vigneault, and Vesey’s middle of the year seemed pretty bland. At a couple points in the season, Vesey was a healthy scratch and as AV always says, “he was going through the process.” Probably a down time for Vesey as he was going through this, as a player you start to think the coaching staff no longer has your back, confidence dips, the want and desire to make skill plays flames out.

All of these factored into the slow middle part for Vesey. However, Vesey bounced back in a big way in the late season and in the playoffs. On paper, he recorded five points on one goal and four assists, but he looked strong and probably should’ve had a few more goals that didn’t bounce his way.

His assist on Brady Skjej’s goal against Montreal to tie Game 5 was an absolute thing of beauty. He used speed and strength to protect the puck along the boards, draw defenseman, and allow more time and space for Rick Nash to drive hard to the net and Skjei was there to clean up the rebound.

Hopefully, Vesey can take the momentum he gained from the playoffs and bring it into next season.

He will have a full summer of NHL training under his belt and knows what to expect from the grind of an 82 game season. Vesey needs to play at the very least somewhere in the top nine group of forwards and should see power play time. He most certainly didn’t look out of place as the winger opposite Rick Nash and the two seemed to have generated a bit of chemistry. 

I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities to see Vesey hit the 20-25 goal mark, and although he didn’t rack up a lot of assists last season, he does have some sneaky, underrated vision. A 20 assist campaign isn’t too unrealistic. Of course, all of this is dependent on AV finding the right combinations at forward and, obviously, at this point, there still seems to be a hole at the center position.

But regardless of who centers who and who plays with who, Vesey is someone that needs to step up offensively and really cement himself as part of this core group the Rangers have.

The biggest thing AV and the coaching staff need to do is to trust these young players (Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich) to play the type of game that has made them successful their entire careers. If there’s trust, then there’s confidence, and when there’s confidence, these kids can flat out play, create and flourish.

Coaches should never diminish players into roles they are not meant to play. Vesey is talented enough to be a top-six forward on most teams in the NHL, so allow him to do so. Let him make plays and take chances on skill plays. Don’t bench him for attempting those plays. Yes, of course, no one can try toe drags at the blue line and things of that nature. But if Vesey feels trusted, then his confidence will skyrocket and who knows where he could end up in terms of production.

But for now, I will put a line of 26-19-45 for Vesey’s campaign next season and hopefully we start to really see a flourished offensive player.

Neal Purcell has a tremendous passion for New York Rangers hockey and the sport of hockey in general. A graduate of SUNY Cortland in Upstate NY, Purcell coaches both a high school hockey team and a travel team in the winter. Purcell is also a part of a small family business in the Central New York Region.