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Rangers' Vesey keeps focus on tonight's game, downplays crazy summer

It's game 25 of his rookie season, no big deal otherwise. That was the party line New York Rangers rookie Jimmy Vesey was selling after his team's pregame skate Thursday in KeyBank Center.

Of course, it really isn't just another game. Vesey was Sabres property for nearly two months over the summer and spurned the team's overtures about signing a contract as his situation became the No. 1 story in the league for much of July and into the Aug. 15 free agency date.

He ended up signing a free-agent deal with the Rangers, in part after a meeting that included New York assistant GM and former Sabres captain Chris Drury. Vesey has eight goals and 14 points over his first 24 games.

"I was really comfortable with the people I met with," Vesey said. "They seemed to really want me as a part of their team and I couldn't be happier with my decision. Everyone has their own opinion on it but I talked to my agents and my family and we felt it was the best decision and the best route to go. It's in the past so I'm just focused on this season and helping the Rangers."

Vesey said he wasn't concerned about what kind of crowd reaction he might get here tonight after opting against Buffalo. The Sabres had one meeting with him in July, attended by GM Tim Murray, coach Dan Bylsma and head college scout Jerry Forton, but never seemed to have much of a chance to close a deal.

While there might be some reaction from Sabres fans in the crowd, it's unlikely there will be anywhere near the kind of visceral response Vesey figures to encounter from fans in Nashville when the Rangers play there on Dec. 17. The Predators, remember, drafted Vesey in 2012 and claimed he reneged on signing with them last spring even though they promised him a spot on the team's top three lines for its playoff run.

'I'm not really worried about all that," Vesey said. "At the end of the day, I made a decision. It might have pissed some people off I guess but that was never my intention. I'm just focused on tonight's game."

Vesey spent the summer playing on a rec league team with Jack Eichel in Foxborough, Mass., and said he's particularly looking forward to his first NHL game against his friend from back home in Boston.

"I've gotten to know Jack pretty well," Vesey said. "We worked out and skated together in the summer. I knew him when he was at BU and it will be pretty cool to play against each other. Two Boston kids. Any time you play against someone from your area, it's pretty cool. It should be fun."

New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey, left, talks with teammate Rick Nash during the morning skate at the KeyBank Center. (Mark Mulville/The Buffalo News)

New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey, left, talks with teammate Rick Nash during the morning skate at the KeyBank Center. (Mark Mulville/The Buffalo News)

As for the game, the Rangers will start Henrik Lundqvist in goal and will insert Wheatfield native Adam Clendening on defense and at the point on their power play. He has been a healthy scratch for 11 straight games and 18 of the first 19. Kevin Klein will sit.

"We felt it was time to give Adam a look on D and on the power play," said coach Alain Vigneault. "He did a good job for us early on, did a good job for us at training camp and we felt it was time to take a look."

Clendending has two assists in his six games thus far. The 24-year-old was a former No. 2 pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011 and has bounced around to five NHL organizations.  He has played 57 NHL games and has two goals, one in 2014 for the Hawks and one last year for Edmonton.

"Everybody wants to play. It's your competitive nature," Clendening said. "Wanting to play but also realizing the situation you're in is part of being in the position that I am in. There's probably not too many guys around the room that also haven't done the same thing and waited for their team. I think everybody in the room understands it."

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