From NYHJ: Jessiman delivers for B-Sens
by David Satriano/NYHJ Writer
Every kid who’s ever laced up his skates or played pond hockey dreams of playing in the NHL.
Former first-round draft pick and current Binghamton Senators right wing Hugh Jessiman ever so briefly got that chance, but a decade after being drafted, is hoping for another shot at the NHL.
Drafted 12th overall in 2003 by the New York Rangers, Jessiman (New York, N.Y.) was seen as a big, physical guy who could score and hopefully help get the Rangers back to the playoffs, where they hadn’t been for six seasons. But after spending five years with the organization not producing the desired results — and perhaps not being given the fairest of shakes — the former Dartmouth College skater was traded to Nashville in 2008.
“There are expectations on you but you have to do your best, just go out there and take advantage of the opportunity you get,” said Jessiman, about being drafted high. “I think me getting to Nashville, getting to Milwaukee (AHL) was a great opportunity for me. It didn’t maybe pan out in Nashville, but at the end of the road to the NHL, when I finally got there with Florida, I realized how valuable it was getting out of New York.”
Binghamton Senators first-year head coach Luke Richardson knows what it’s like to have lofty expectations. A defenseman, he was drafted No. 7 overall in 1987 and played 20 years in the NHL.
“I know the New York Rangers is a high-profile place. It’s a tough place if you don’t have success right away — sometimes the patience is very short.” said Richardson. “I know when I was in Philadelphia, it was very similar. They really expect to try and win and otherwise they move in a different direction.
“At that time, I don’t know if they had the top team that they do now and I think they were just probably searching out to get better quickly, and unfortunately he was probably not on the good end of that. You know what happens when you leave an organization that drafts you; you’re not exactly their guy. There are guys ahead of you … all of a sudden you slide down that depth chart a few bumps, and I’m sure that’s kind of been Hugh’s story.”
But the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Jessiman has never given up on making it back to the NHL. With the Milwaukee Admirals from 2008-10, he had back-to-back seasons of 20 goals and 100 penalty minutes, which re-instilled his confidence. He signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, who waived him after training camp, and he was traded to the Florida Panthers in February 2011.
Less than three weeks later, he made his NHL debut and played in two games without registering a point, but did have a fighting major.
“It was awesome. I knew I was definitely good enough (and) I just wasn’t getting the opportunity, and so it made everything worth it,” he said. “Made all the ups and downs worth it, just for your family. All in all, it was just an amazing experience.”
After getting the proverbial cup of coffee in the NHL, he went back to the AHL for the rest of the season and was not re-signed by the Panthers. He ended up signing an AHL deal with the Lake Erie Monsters and had five goals, 25 points and 75 penalty minutes in 43 games.
Looking back on that 2003 draft class, future All-Stars drafted after him in the first round include Dustin Brown (Ithaca, N.Y.), Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards and Corey Perry. And, despite not having the career that they have had, Richardson said Jessiman is still very valuable for his Binghamton club.
“He is a big man that has a lot of skill, so there’s a lot of different things he can do,” he said. “He is very versatile. He is a pretty quiet gentleman for a big guy, but when he gets mad, he is pretty physical out there, so he’s got some different elements to the game, which always keeps opponents on their toes.
“He’s been around for a few years. He is one of our older guys so he has great leadership qualities, and that really helps with a young team.”
At 31-17-1-4, the B-Sens were one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference in late February, chasing the Syracuse Crunch for first place in the East Division.
Richardson lamented that Jessiman didn’t even receive an invite to training camp with the Ottawa Senators in January.
“I know (Senators head coach) Paul MacLean wanted a real small training camp. So we only had two forwards go,” he said. “I think it was more on the defensive side they needed help this year. So really the forward spots were pretty much solidified.”
Jessiman, 28, has quietly produced this season for Binghamton with nine goals, 23 points and a team-leading 132 penalty minutes through 53 games in late February.
“I would’ve liked to have been invited but, obviously, you just got to keep fighting and keep going,” he said. “Some things you can’t control and the only thing I can control is how I play and how I come out and respond, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
In addition, he serves as an assistant coach of sorts for Richardson on the ice and is a leader and Good Samaritan off the ice. He is often seen in Binghamton cheering up special needs children and helped the relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy. He sold a signed team jersey, with all proceeds going to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, site of the December tragedy.
“He’s got a great attitude; guys really like him and he’s a joy to have around and coach,” said Richardson. “He has embraced that leadership role, which has helped me as a young coach to get points and have everyone follow that ship in the right direction.”
“The position we’re in as hockey players, we have all this unique position in that we can help people,” said Jessiman. “When you have the opportunity to parlay your status as a hockey player into something that can help other people, that’s something that you just have to do.”
Approaching the 10-year anniversary of his lofty draft selection, Jessiman didn’t envision himself having played only two NHL games in his career and not being able to stick on a roster. But while not closing the door on dream, he’s opening others, on and off the ice, in Binghamton.
“This year, it’s been an experience to be able to help some of the younger guys and there are a lot of guys that are getting good opportunities,” he said. “This is a well-run organization here in Ottawa. This is one of the best, if not the best place I’ve seen.”