Newest Rangers Forward James Sheppard: ‘I’m Going To Go My Hardest’

James Sheppard

James Sheppard is raring to go ahead of his Rangers debut. In all likelihood, the 26-year-old forward will suit up against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday night.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault strongly hinted that the 6-foot-1, 215-pound forward will be in the lineup on Wednesday. Sheppard skated with center Dominic Moore and right wing Jesper Fast on the fourth line during Tuesday’s practice in Greenburgh, N.Y.

“Right now, I would say yes,” Vigneault said in response to whether Sheppard will make his debut in Detroit. “I tried him today with the left side with Dom and Quickie. When we get into Detroit, the coaches are gonna have a meeting, go through a couple of things in Detroit, then decide from there.”

Prior to the Rangers flying to the Motor City, Sheppard spoke one-on-one with XN Sports about his fresh opportunity with the Broadway Blueshirts.

Fans can expect Sheppard to give maximum effort in whichever role Vigneault determines to be the best fit. Sheppard is aware that Vigneault could experiment by swapping him between center and either wing across the Rangers’ bottom-six.

“I’m just going to chip in here and there,” Sheppard said. “I’m not sure how it’s going to go, but I know whichever place I’m in, I’m going to go my hardest.

“I think I’m versatile. It’s tough to say because you don’t know what’s going to happen in games. I can play on the wing, I can play center, I can help on draws. I’ve worked on my faceoffs the past couple of years, they’ve improved in San Jose. Doing that, I might kill some penalties.”

Vigneault said he feels comfortable playing Sheppard, a left-handed forward, in all three forward positions. Sheppard has collected 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) through 57 games this season. He won exactly half of the faceoffs he took for the Sharks this season, winning 267 of 534 draws.

“He is a smart player who can play a pretty good two-way game and is versatile,” Vigneault said. “He can play all three forward positions. I think for our bottom six, depending on how he plays, he’ll get an opportunity and we’ll see where he fits in.”

Sheppard reflected on three enjoyable seasons in San Jose. While Sheppard admitted he’s going to miss the city of San Jose and his former Sharks teammates, he’s excited about his new chance with the Rangers.

“It was tough leaving San Jose,” Sheppard said. “I had good teammates there. We spent a lot of years together. It was comfortable living there. It was tough to leave obviously, but if you’re going to somewhere – this is one of the best places to go. The organization so far has been top-notch.”

Sheppard spent two seasons as a teammate of Dan Boyle while the pair played together in San Jose. He is also familiar with Derick Brassard from his time playing against him in the QMJHL while a member of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

“It’s a lot of new faces, but they’ve all been really welcoming and they all get along pretty well,” Sheppard said. “It’s a nice room to come to. Obviously, I know Boyler from San Jose. I know Brassard and some of the other guys from playing in juniors.”


Boyle spoke exclusively to XN Sports about Sheppard’s abilities. The 38-year-old defenseman has a high appreciation for Sheppard’s responsible game. He knows that the 215-pound forward is able to utilize his strength to win battles in the hard areas and keeps the puck away from danger.

“He’s a big body,” Boyle said. “He can hold on to pucks with the best of them. That’s his biggest attribute. He’s one of those guys you want in there when there’s battles in the corners. He’ll do a good job of protecting the puck down low. He’ll keep the puck out of harm’s way. He’s played in all kinds of different roles in San Jose. Defensively, he’s very responsible. He gives us size for when we’re facing bigger teams.”

Formerly a ninth overall pick at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Sheppard’s growth has been stunted by a long list of injuries including him fracturing his patella in Sept. 2010 in an accident while riding an ATV on a guided tour in Vail, C.O. His highest career point total came in his sophomore season with the Minnesota Wild when he recorded 24 points in 82 games.

Vigneault seems to have the magic touch in squeezing the most out of his players’ abilities. Boyle thinks Sheppard could flourish given the right opportunity.

“He’s a very smart hockey player,” Boyle said. “I think he just needs an opportunity to get in there a little bit. No matter how good you are, you have to get an opportunity. Some players get more than others. He needs an opportunity to play. Hopefully, AV will give him that chance to see where he fits and see what he can do. I’m sure that Sheppard will answer the bell. I think he’s going to help us.”

Boyle strongly believes that Rangers management is making the kind of moves that will give the Blueshirts the best chance of going deep in the playoffs. The acquisition of skilled defenseman Keith Yandle is a game-changer because it gives the Rangers one of the strongest collections of six defensemen in the league.

Sheppard is expected to solidify the Rangers’ bottom-six forwards. Boyle believes that Sheppard has a good chance of making an impact because of his responsible game and positive dressing room traits.

“It’s hard to complain with what we’ve seen so far,” Boyle said. “This year, we’ve had a pretty good run. You trust management to bring in guys that will help us get to the next level. Only time will tell, but he’s certainly a good locker room guy. He’s a responsible player out there.”

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Sean Hartnett
Sean Hartnett has covered the New York Rangers and the NHL for since 2011. He has covered two Stanley Cup Finals. Sean now contributes to XNSports’ NHL and general sports coverage. He devotes far too much of his free time watching Simpsons and Seinfeld reruns. Sean can be reached via Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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