Nobody wanted to call it a fourth line, and it isn’t in the traditional sense of the label. But it is certainly a spot further down the lineup for Jimmy Vesey, as the Rangers winger will begin his second NHL season Thursday night on a line with David Desharnais and Paul Casey at the Garden against the Avalanche.
“I definitely think we have four lines of skill,” Vesey told The Post before the game. “As a fourth line, so to speak, me, David and Paul can still bring production to the team. Last year, and I guess always with AV, he plays the guys that are playing well. So we’ll see.”
That would be coach Alain Vigneault, who has proven in his previous four seasons behind the Rangers bench that it is more a meritocracy than any overwhelming favoritism. It’s also always important for him to roll four lines, and with this current roster, that just happens to look like four lines of skill.
“I look right now at Jimmy and our team, we’re a four-line team,” Vigneault said. “To have success, we’ve got to play four lines. We have to play at a high pace, high tempo, quick to check, and then when we get the puck, we have to be quick to counter.
“The defensemen that we’ve added I think are going to help us in that area,” Vigneault added, referencing the offensive-minded Kevin Shattenkirk and Anthony DeAngelo. “Speed has always been [part of the] identity of this group since I’ve been here. It should be even more on display now that we’ve got, I believe, defensemen that can move a little bit quicker, north-south, that should be very beneficial.”
Vesey went through his ups and downs in his rookie year after deciding to sign with the Rangers in the summer of 2016, coming out of Harvard as the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner. But Vigneault has liked what he has seen of Vesey in training camp, and it peaked with the final preseason game on Sept. 26 against the Flyers in Philadelphia — which just also happened to be the first time this combination with Desharnais and Carey was formed.
“Jimmy has played well, extremely well that last game with David and that was a good line for us with Paul there,” Vigneault said. “We’re starting those three together and we expect them to be effective at both ends of the rink.”
Vesey, 24, was pretty clear when he was asked about what he wants to get better at in his second year, and it’s something that the Rangers certainly need out of him.
“I think consistency,” Vesey said. “I had some really good stretches last year and then some down times. Think it just comes with the process of my development and what it takes to be a good player at this level.”
Consistency is a going to be an ongoing theme with the Rangers this season after a disappointing second-round loss to the Senators this past postseason. It was all ups and downs for them last year, from the likes of Henrik Lundqvist all the way to Vesey. But when they did get off to a 13-4-0 start, it was a four-line attack with blinding speed. That is a good template going into the start of this year, when another revamped roster could use a good start to begin building confidence and momentum.
And that could happen with a fourth line that has an uncommon amount of skill.
“I think right now, the types of forwards that we have, skilled and speed, so I’ve put in a system in place that’s going to maximize the talent of this group,” Vigneault said. “Right now, with what we have, I really believe we’ll be quick to check, get the puck north to south, and we should be effective if we’re playing that type of hockey.”