Jimmy Vesey, the Hobey Baker Award winner whose negotiating rights the Buffalo Sabres owned for 57 days, signed a two-year, $1.85 million entry-level contract Friday with the New York Rangers, ending an odd five months in which the college star spurned the Nashville Predators to become a free agent.
Vesey, 23, officially became unrestricted on Tuesday, and, as expected, a slew of teams tried recruiting the high-scoring former Harvard University winger.
In addition to the Rangers, his hometown Boston Bruins, the Chicago Blackhawks, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins all reportedly met with Vesey’s camp.
The teams wooed Vesey, who wanted a role on the top two lines, aggressively. The Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane and the Isles’ John Tavares, two of the NHL’s biggest superstars, reportedly traveled to Boston and talked to the prospect in person.
The Sabres, who traded a 2016 third-round pick to Nashville on June 20 for Vesey’s negotiating rights, met with him in July. They offered Vesey a spot beside ultra-slick center Jack Eichel or NHL All-Star Ryan O’Reilly and an opportunity to grow with a talented young team.
Eichel was also around Vesey regularly as his summer league teammate in Foxborough, Mass.
But general manager Tim Murray’s words and tone last month implied he knew Vesey likely wouldn’t pick the Sabres. Murray has called trading one of his four third-round picks “a gamble.”
Vesey might be gambling by choosing the Rangers, a strong but aging team whose young talent isn’t on par with the other clubs. However, they met both of his reported demands: playing time and an East Coast locale.
The Rangers also lured Vesey’s friend, former first-round pick Kevin Hayes, as a four-year college free agent in 2014. Vesey, naturally, has spoken to Hayes recently.
Perhaps New York’s bright lights also enticed Vesey. Some New York celebrities – Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, actress Susan Sarandon, actor Jerry Ferrara and others – recruited Vesey via Twitter.
By entering free agency and his camp becoming so vocal, Vesey has set expectations very high. Remember, he has never played an NHL game. He passed up an opportunity in March to join the playoff-bound Predators.
Vesey, the 66th overall pick by Nashville in 2012, was dead set on becoming a free agent, a seldom-used option for NCAA draft choices who play four seasons and don’t sign an entry-level NHL contract.
Vesey did media interviews and his agents openly talked to reporters about other teams, incredibly, while the Sabres still owned his rights. He has received more attention than established NHL stars in recent weeks.
The Rangers, by the way, make the first of their two Buffalo visits next season on Dec. 1.
With Vesey out of the mix, the Sabres’ summer might ramp up a bit. August is usually a quiet month, but they still must re-sign defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and winger Zemgus Girgensons, two notable restricted free agents.
Ristolainen, 21, is the team’s No. 1 defender and could command a long-term contract worth more than $5 million a season. Meanwhile, Girgensons, 22, is coming off a disappointing seven-goal season. Right now, the Latvian might only have a spot on the fourth line.
Vesey, of course, would have filled a notable need. The low-scoring Sabres would like another winger to play beside Eichel and O’Reilly. Perhaps now they will dip into free agency and try to find some value.
— Susan Sarandon (@SusanSarandon) August 17, 2016
— Noah Syndergaard (@Noahsyndergaard) August 17, 2016