Matthews, 19, had four goals on his first four shots in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. Laine, 18, had a goal and assist in Thursday's 5-4 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes. Two of the best young players in the game were showcasing what the future holds for their organizations. But they aren't the only two rookies ready to have an immediate impact.
"I can't speak for other coaches, but I've always been a real firm believer that talent has no age," New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "When a person has talent, [age] doesn't matter. It's just a matter of getting it out and giving them the opportunity, and putting them in situations where they can be successful. Some can do it. Some can't. The ones who seem to be able to do it are the ones who have that quiet confidence and just go out and play. Talent has no age, and we saw a great example of that [Wednesday] night with the first game between Toronto and Ottawa."
In New York, rookie Jimmy Vesey, 23, made his debut for the Rangers on Thursday. He did not register a point in their 5-3 win over the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden, but the forward proved he belonged in the NHL. He kept his game simple. It was evident he became more comfortable as the game progressed.
"He had some good reads early in the game and should get better over time," said one Eastern Conference executive who attended the game.
Vesey's quest to become an NHLer was front and center during the offseason. The Hobey Baker Award winner from Harvard attempted to ignore the outside noise. As a college free agent, Vesey entertained offers from the Maple Leafs, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins before deciding to sign with the Rangers in August.
Throughout the interview process, he maintained his focus on his training to prepare for his rookie season. A native Bostonian, Vesey spent the summer working out alongside other local NHLers with strength and conditioning coach Brian McDonough at Edge Performance Systems in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
"I've been training athletes for 20 years, and the effort Jimmy gave this offseason was nothing short of spectacular," McDonough said. "His work ethic and intensity in the gym and on the ice were second to none. His attention to detail with his nutrition and tissue work were exemplary as well. He was motivated by this amazing opportunity he has in front of him."
Vesey so far has seized that opportunity. He's been playing on the left wing, along with center Derek Stepan and right winger Mats Zuccarello. The Rangers are in St. Louis to take on the Blues Saturday night.
"I thought it was good, actually," Vesey said after the game. "I thought our line had a lot of chances, a lot of time in the offensive zone. We had a pretty good game, in terms of the first game of the season. I was happy with the effort, especially getting a win for the team.
"I felt pretty comfortable out there and I was able to hang on to some pucks down low and we had a lot of chances. It was a good Game 1. It's a good feeling to get the first one out of the way and get the win in the first game."
Rangers teammate and fellow Boston native Kevin Hayes understands what Vesey is dealing with as he makes the transition from the college game to the pros.
"He's a longtime friend and it's nice to be able to share an NHL moment with him," said Hayes, who played college hockey at Boston College. "There will be ups and downs. You can look at it through a microscope game-by-game and a telescope throughout the whole season. He's definitely going to be up and down, but he's got to be positive. I keep telling him, 'You're here for a reason. You made the team for a reason.' I think he's going to be a great player here."
Vesey's family, friends and agents were in town Thursday for his NHL debut. Everyone was pleased with the Rangers' victory and the rookie's efforts in his first game. It might not have been a gaudy statistical beginning like Matthews' or Laine's, but his start certainly suggests that Vesey will develop into a sound and productive NHL player.
"We're like a lot of teams: we're putting in young faces in our lineup," Vigneault said. "We're confident they'll be able to do it and we're giving them the opportunity in roles [so] they should be successful. We'll see what happens."