Bigger takes longer. At least, that’s the way Hugh Jessiman sees it.
That’s also why he sees nothing unusual about the fact that he’s the only one of the 30 first-round picks in the 2003 draft who has not played at least one NHL game.
“I’m pretty patient,” Jessiman said. “…I think the whole point is being patient. It’s part of the game. Especially if you’re a bigger guy, it takes a little longer to develop so I do have to be patient and continue to learn and trust my skills and ability.”
Jessiman is big. A New York City native who played three years of college hockey at Dartmouth, he is 6-foot-6 and weighs 235 pounds.
Yet he does more than take up space.
In 63 games for Milwaukee last year, after being acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers, he scored a career-high 20 goals and added seven assists with 100 penalty minutes. He was second on the Admirals in goals and power-play goals and was one of just 10 players in the league with at least 20 goals and 100 penalty minutes.
“You do like the fact that he has size; you do like the fact that he can skate well enough; you do like the fact that he seems to have enough ability to score,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Probably the thing is for him to find that game that is going to be successful.
“The advantage that he has over 90 percent of players he plays against is that he’s bigger. A lot of guys (that size) will think you have to be physical. You don’t have to be. You just have to have what I call a heavy game — puck protection, using that size to lean, drive to those lanes …all those things that make it hard for a defender to handle.”
Jessiman was ranked as the 20th-best North American prospect when the Rangers drafted him 12th overall in 2003, the year the draft was held in Nashville and widely considered the deepest in recent history.
After that he played two more seasons at Dartmouth before he turned pro. He then split two seasons between the ECHL and the AHL before he became a full-time AHL player with Hartford, the Rangers’ affiliate, in 2007-08.
During that time, players drafted ahead of him, such as Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek and Predators’ defenseman Ryan Suter, all grew into NHL players. So did the likes of Zach Parise, Mike Richards and Ryan Getzlaf — all selected after Jessiman.
Six games into last season he was traded to the Predators for future considerations.
“Last year I felt like it was a great year down in Milwaukee,” he said. “I felt like I progressed well and we had good coaches down there. I felt like I progressed quite a bit. Now my goal here is to make the team.”
If, or when, he does, the hope among the Predators is that he will live up to the expectations created by his draft position — finally.
“Has he reached his potential?” Trotz said. “That’s probably the thing he hasn’t done. Knowing what you can do, what can make you successful and how you can adjust your game to be successful at the next level, is really important.”
Staying patient helps too. In a big way.
• Goalies Chet Pickard and Jeremy Smith combined for 28 saves as the Nashville Predators’ prospects defeated the Atlanta Thrashers’ prospects 3-0 Tuesday and earned a split of their two-game rookie scrimmage.
Pickard stopped 13 shots in 32:15 of ice time. Smith made 15 saves in the final 27:45. Each allowed three goals in Monday’s 6-3 loss.
Colin Wilson and Nick Spaling each scored for the second straight contest. Wilson, who also had an assist, capped the scoring with an empty-net goal in the final minute. Spaling scored with nine seconds to play in the first period and made it 2-0.
Taylor Beck, who had two assists in Monday’s contest, had the first goal, 10:15 into the opening period.
• For the veterans, training camp moves into its next phase with an intra-squad scrimmage on Wednesday. That is followed by three straight days of preseason contests beginning Thursday at home against Atlanta.
“From an individual standpoint, I’m looking at guys who can make things happen, guys who compete very hard, guys who have detail in their game, guys who will fit in,” Trotz said. “It’s pretty simple, if you’re a scorer, score…; if you’re banger, bang; if you’re a checker, check; if you’re the best faceoff guy, win every faceoff; if you’re a defender, defend.”