The saga is over.
As of Friday afternoon, Vesey Watch has officially come to an end, as unrestricted free-agent forward and prized prospect Jimmy Vesey has decided to sign with the New York Rangers.
Vesey scored 24 goals and 46 points in 33 games last year as a senior at Harvard University. He was the recipient of the 2016 Hobey Baker Award as the top player in collegiate hockey. He was also a finalist for the award at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 season but ultimately finished as a runner-up behind Jack Eichel, who took home the honor.
Vesey was originally drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round (66) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. After finishing his four-year career at Harvard, he declined a contract offer from Nashville, expressing interest in hitting free agency August 15. The Buffalo Sabres then traded for Vesey’s signing rights, sending a third-round draft pick to Nashville. Vesey was determined to test free agency, however, even though Buffalo remained on his list of potential destinations.
With Buffalo still in consideration, Vesey met with seven additional teams this week, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. Players from those teams, such as Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Cory Schneider, Kyle Palmieri and Kevin Hayes, met with or spoke to Vesey personally as part of their respective team’s pitch. Hayes has spoken with Vesey many times this summer, as the two have been working out together. In the end, Hayes and the Rangers came away victorious.
— Kevin Hayes (@KevinPHayes12) August 19, 2016
Vesey’s landing spot has been one of the main storylines all offseason, a topic of endless speculation. The 23-year-old is widely considered to be NHL-ready, making him an appealing option for every franchise in the league.
What made things even more interesting was the fact that every team was on a level playing field as far as monetary options, as Vesey would be forced to sign a two-year entry-level contract with a maximum average annual value of $925,000. This allowed cap-straddled contenders like the Blackhawks and Penguins to remain in the game. With the Rangers, Vesey will receive a maximum of $2.85 million in bonuses, according to General Fanager.
What Vesey was interested in, however, was securing a top-six role out of the gate. It’s unclear if the Rangers guaranteed him a top-six role at this time, but it’s more than likely he will start out alongside either Derek Stepan or newly-acquired Mika Zibanejad, unless Hayes takes over second-line duties. The decision will largely depend on Vesey’s performance in camp.
Vesey racked up 80 goals and 144 points in 128 games in four seasons at Harvard. He recently helped the U.S. capture the bronze medal in the 2015 IIHF World Championship, scoring three assists in nine games.
Vesey follows in the footsteps of other college players who have decided to hit free agency instead of signing with the team that drafted them, such as Justin Schultz, Mike Reilly and, ironically, Kevin Hayes.
This is a massive move for the Rangers, who were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games in the first round of the playoffs last season. The Rangers have not made many changes this offseason, aside from trading Derick Brassard to Ottawa in exchange for Zibanejad. A roster that was recently thought of as stale now welcomes the most talked-about player of the offseason. Though Vesey has not yet played a game in the NHL, all eyes will be on him when he makes his debut in October.
Though Vesey will be under tremendous scrutiny, the good news for him is that he will be where he clearly wants to be. It’s not often for a player in Vesey’s situation to be courted by some of the best players in the game, like Kane, Crosby and Tavares. The fact that Vesey went in another direction, turning down an opportunity to play on a line with players like Jonathan Toews, Evgeni Malkin and Tavares, says a lot about his confidence in this decision.
It will be interesting to see if this serves as a domino effect for the Rangers to make further roster changes. At the end of the day, general manager Jeff Gorton could be satisfied with his offseason tinkering after pulling off this move.
Featured image via Yahoo Sports