There’s no mistaking the fact that Michael Vukojevic is doing what he loves most.
Whether he’s in the gym, working through another practice, or grinding through one of the team’s 68 regular season games, none of those experiences goes by without a smile finding its way across his face.
By default, the reason behind that smile usually forces a grin out of his teammates too.
“I think I’m a guy that helps others forget that they might be going through a tough stretch by trying to be funny and put a smile on their face,” the easy-going defenceman said.
“It’s a tough and long season. There are ups and downs with winning and losing. Sometimes it can be hard on you or your teammates.”
As a self-proclaimed jokester, the native of Oakville, ON likes “keeping things light and cracking jokes from time to time”.
“I think I’ve always been this way since Day One,” he said.
That first game with the Rangers was back in the 2017/18 season after joining the team for 24 regular season games after starting the year with the Green Bay Ramblers of the USHL.
After recording five points in that span, Vukojevic exploded for 29 points (and 65 penalty minutes) while playing in every regular season game.
Aside from the statistical growth, he also evolved into a dependable shutdown defenceman who impressed scouts with his skating, hockey sense, and ability to make smart decisions with the puck.
He mostly credits assistant coach Dennis Wideman for helping him grow into the player he is today.
“Dennis is awesome. He played in the NHL for over a decade and 800 games, so I’m constantly picking his brain and asking questions about the next level and how to improve parts of my game so I stay there too,” he said.
Where he will want to stay specifically (once he gets the call up) is New Jersey – the team that drafted him in the third round (82nd overall) in last summer’s NHL Draft.
Unsurprisingly, he considers that the best day of his life.
“It was awesome. I went a few days earlier with my brother and sister and spent time in Vancouver sight-seeing,” he recalled.
“My parents and billets ended-up coming a few a days later, so I got to spend some time with them for a bit of a mini-vacation. Enjoying that experience with them and having their support was amazing.”
After such an emotional day that preceded a grueling summer of workouts, Vukojevic couldn’t wait to get back with his teammates – but not before taking part in Devils development camp.
“I think it was more a feeling of excitement to see what would happen coming into this year. I put in a lot of hard work – which wasn’t always fun – and I just wanted to get the season going,” he said.
“I couldn’t wait because I was anxious to see what this team could do.”
Making that trip to The Aud even more fun was arriving in his new Tesla, for which he admits “the guys give me the gears a little bit”.
“They always ask me first to drive them places though because they don’t have to give me gas money,” he said with a laugh.
One destination he’s happy to give a ride to is The Daily Grill in Waterloo, which has been a frequent breakfast spot for a corps group of players the last couple of seasons.
“It’s awesome going there. The owner loves the boys and is always talking about the team with us,” he said, while describing his order as a “classic”: peameal bacon, eggs (sunny side up), white toast with jam, coffee, and iced tea.
“It’s been a great way to relax and hang out as a team before dialing-in and going through the rest of the game day routine,” Vukojevic said.
And the team certainly has been laser-focused since November 28th, winning 11 straight games very recently.
“We’re hot right now and I think even more special things are to come.”