By Sean Hartnett
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Former Harvard standout Jimmy Vesey is in the process of trimming his short list as teams prepare to court the soon-to-be free agent.
Contrary to some reports, the Buffalo Sabres, the team that owns his rights, are very much in the mix as the 23-year-old left wing is set to become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16.
“There are no front runners,” Peter Donatelli, Vesey’s agent, told WFAN.com Wednesday night via email. “When Jimmy becomes a free agent he will meet and/or talk with teams of interest. Buffalo will be part of the process as they are certainly a team of interest. He will compare and contrast his options. Buffalo owns his rights. It should not be interpreted negatively against them because he wants to speak with other teams to weigh options.”
The Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Rangers and Devils are expected to be on Vesey’s list. Buffalo acquired the 2015-16 Hobey Baker Award winner’s rights from the Nashville Predators on June 20 in exchange for the 76th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Nashville used the 66th pick on Vesey in 2012.
Vesey, who finished his senior year at Harvard with 46 points, including 24 goals, in 33 games, shares representatives with Sabres star Jack Eichel and the pair of Massachusetts natives play for the same summer league team. The Sabres have been aggressive in their rebuild and are a franchise on the upswing. Same goes for the Devils, who made a big splash this offseason by acquiring Taylor Hall, one of the NHL’s most productive wingers.
Meanwhile, the Rangers and Blackhawks are traditional contenders looking for a cost-effective option to boost their scoring. The salary cap crunch forced the Blueshirts to deal Derick Brassard and Keith Yandle, while Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen were traded by Chicago for the same reason.
It’s important to keep in mind there will not be a bidding war for Vesey’s services. He can only sign a maximum contract under the entry-level system for a base salary of $925,000 with potential bonuses. The team that lands him is going to gain an NHL-ready talent who can be an asset on the power play. At 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds, Vesey has the body and skill set to blossom into a top-level power forward.
It will soon be up to Vesey to determine which team offers the best fit. The Rangers play an exciting, uptempo system and have a track record of grooming young forwards into important roles. Look no further than J.T. Miller and fellow Massachusetts natives Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes. Chicago offers the best chance of contending for the Stanley Cup immediately, while the Devils and Sabres are stockpiling up-and-coming talents. Namely, Buffalo could dangle the chance to be centered by Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.
Get your popcorn ready, because the #VeseyWatch is about to kick into full gear.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey