Two different paths, one destination

by Justin Lafleur || AHL On The Beat Archive

Derek Joslin has had a breakout season in Worcester this year.

Derek Joslin and Ryan Vesce are teammates for the Worcester Sharks. They were both selected to play in the 2009 AHL All-Star Classic, and both have made their NHL debuts this season with San Jose.

That is where the similarities end.

Joslin is a 22-year-old defenseman who has seen action in parts of the Sharks’ first three seasons in Worcester. As a fifth-round draft pick in 2005, expectations were high, but no higher than an undrafted rookie.

“Getting drafted is just a foot in the door,” Joslin said. “Coming into Worcester, I just wanted to prove myself that I could play at this level and keep improving every single day.”

This year has been a coming-out party of sorts for the native of Richmond Hill, Ont. At the beginning of the season, Joslin was given the title of alternate captain, which is normally held for more veteran players.

“It was an honor,” he said. “Obviously the coaching staff saw leadership skills in me. I feel like I’m a leader. I’m good with the guys and take this job really seriously.”

His play was rewarded with his first NHL call-up on Jan. 2. His first game came the following night, a home contest at the HP Pavilion in San Jose versus the New York Islanders. Despite not cracking the scoresheet, it was a memorable and successful debut.

“It was a huge experience in my life,” he said. “My whole life, I wanted to play in the National Hockey League and I got to do that against the Islanders for the first time. I was definitely nervous at first, but more anxious to get out there and do my thing. Once the puck dropped, it was just like any other game.”

Joslin took the junior hockey route, playing for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL from 2003-07. He even got a cup of coffee with San Jose’s AHL affiliate in Cleveland during the 2005-06 season.

Vesce is a 26-year-old forward who is in his first season in Worcester. Despite his small stature (he is listed at 5-8), Vesce was given every chance to succeed at Cornell University.

“Coach [Mike] Schafer gave me an opportunity to earn my spot,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to do that.”

Despite putting up some monster point totals from 2000-04 — he recorded 128 points in 131 career games — Vesce was never drafted. Due to the NHL lockout, the AHL was overflowing with top young talent in 2004-05, meaning fewer opportunities for rookies like Vesce.

Ryan Vesce has been an All-Star twice in his three AHL seasons.

The AHL featured the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes, Chuck Kobasew, Ryan Miller, Zach Parise, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and Cam Ward that year, so Vesce had little choice but to continue playing overseas. He skated for Rogle BK in Sweden.

“It was tough getting into the AHL that year,” he said. “So I went over to Europe to play.”

It ended up being a tremendous experience with some great competition — descendants from the NHL and Elite League — to play against.

“It was great,” he said. “It was a pretty good league there because of the lockout, and was definitely a good step for me transitioning from college to the pro game.”

After impressing with 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) in 43 games, Vesce headed back to the United States to play professionally for the AHL’s Springfield Falcons during the 2005-06 season.

He finished his first AHL campaign with 67 points and earned a spot on the PlanetUSA All-Star Team for that year’s event in Winnipeg.

“It was a fun weekend,” Vesce said. “It was great to play with a lot of the best players from around the league.”

Vesce skated another season in the AHL for the Binghamton Senators before heading overseas for a second time, this time to play for HIFK Helsinki in Finland. He finished the season with 44 points in 56 games.

Ultimately, Vesce wanted another chance at the NHL, so he headed back to the United States and signed with the Sharks on Aug. 12.

“I wanted to have a chance to make the NHL since that is my number one goal,” he said. “That’s really why I came back, for a shot to make it. [The Sharks] showed some interest in me and felt that I could play. It was the opportunity I was looking for.”

This season, Worcester’s team captain is leading the club in scoring, received his first two call-ups to the NHL playing with San Jose, and started for PlanetUSA in his second AHL All-Star Classic. This time, it was extra special with the game being hosted by his team.

“It was a lot more special than the first one, being able to get out with the home fans behind you,” he said. “It’s an experience that only a few guys get each year.”

Joslin agrees. “[Having the game at home is] really special,” he said. “It was amazing to play in front of our home crowd — the fans that know us well. It was a great atmosphere. I was excited to see everybody, to see the familiar faces in the crowd, and to put on a good show.”

The teammates suited up against one another with Vesce chipping in a goal and an assist in PlanetUSA’s 14-11 victory over Joslin’s Canadian All-Stars.

“We had a lot of fun out there,” Vesce said.

Joslin and Vesce couldn’t be any different — defenseman vs. forward, Canadian All-Star Team vs. PlanetUSA, draft pick vs. undrafted, junior hockey vs. college hockey, team captain vs. alternate captain, first-time All-Star vs. former All-Star.

It doesn’t matter the process. It’s the end result that counts, and for Joslin and Vesce, that couldn’t be more true.