By Sean Hartnett
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Former Harvard standout Jimmy Vesey has spent the past few days listening to in-person pitches and trimming his shortlist. A decision on his future could come as early as Friday.
As far as who the frontrunners are to land the 2015-16 Hobey Baker winner, it’s anyone’s guess. There has been little information leaked out from the Vesey camp. The Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres have each met with the promising 23-year-old left wing.
There are pros and cons for Vesey to consider for each of his options:
Rangers — Every player who joins the Rangers tends to beam immediately about playing at the Garden and how well they are treated by the organization. There is definitely a different kind of buzz that comes with playing in that building and the timeless image of Mark Messier lifting the Stanley Cup in 1994 stands as a testament to the rewards of winning in the Big Apple. Manhattan offers world class dining options and endless forms of entertainment are everywhere. The city is huge and there are plenty of nooks where players can escape to unwind. Breaking into the Rangers’ top-six forwards could prove difficult, but Massachusetts native Kevin Hayes can vouch for the significant playing time that’s possible after receiving plenty during his 2014-15 rookie season.
Islanders — Do you want to play on John Tavares’ left wing? That’s exactly what the Isles can offer — major ice time and the opportunity to make a big impact on a team that sees itself ready to take the next step. Tavares led the Islanders’ pitch and Vesey would stand to benefit production-wise with a prime-aged Tavares as his linemate. The Isles have stockpiled up-and-coming talent throughout their lineup and Vesey would fit right in with a skilled group aiming for a deep playoff run. The only drawback could be the instability of the Isles’ arena situation and playing at Barclays Center doesn’t have the same appeal as historic MSG.
Devils — General manager Ray Shero has the Devils on an upward trajectory. The addition of elite scorer Taylor Hall, the locking up of Kyle Palmieri long-term, and goaltender Cory Schneider entering his prime years have New Jersey thinking playoffs after a four-year absence. The blue line has its share of concerns, but Shero is a wise GM poised to build the Devils piece by piece into a genuine contender. If suburban life appeals to Vesey, New Jersey is ideal. You’re close enough to New York City, the beach and the outdoors. Prudential Center and the Devils’ practice rink are joined together and a short drive from peaceful residential neighborhoods.
Bruins — There’s a huge pull for Massachusetts natives to don the famous B’s sweater. Vesey has spent his entire hockey career in his home state and grew up rooting for the Bruins. Signing with the Bruins would keep him closest to family and friends. Yet, many Massachusetts natives have turned down the opportunity to play at home given the pressure cooker atmosphere of delivering in Boston. Hometown kids are always under an enormous microscope and can’t escape the talk-radio chatter and tough headlines. On the flip side, having seen the 2011 Bruins lift the Stanley Cup, Vesey also knows what it means to win in hockey-rabid Beantown and he would stand a good shot at earning a second-line role.
Maple Leafs — The pressure of delivering in Toronto is enormous. No fan base in the league has suffered more heartache and pain. That said, going forward much of that pressure will fall immediately on No.1 overall pick Auston Matthews, and veterans James van Riemsdyk and Morgan Rielly. The young talent in Toronto is considerable and esteemed Mike Babcock is the right head coach to bring this group along, but it’s unclear exactly how quickly the Leafs can transition from doormats to contenders. The prospect of being part of the first team to deliver a cup to Toronto since 1967 is a huge factor. If you win in that city, you’re going to be treated like royalty forever. Having Vesey’s younger brother, Nolan, in the system and father Jim Sr. as a Toronto scout doesn’t hurt the Leafs’ chances, either.
Blackhawks — Patrick Kane reportedly met in person with Vesey. I wonder if Kane wore all three of his Stanley Cup rings that day. Three championships in seven years would be an easy sell for most free agents, but Chicago is the furthest option from home for Vesey. The Blackhawks are positioned to win now and that could ease any concerns about proximity to home. Yet, one major concern could be the annual offseason changeover done to keep the core together. Look what happened to Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and the guy he could be replacing on the top line in Teuvo Teravainen. One or multiple stars always pay the price for Chicago’s sustained success by getting dumped in the offseason.
Penguins — Captain Sidney Crosby reportedly reached out to Vesey. It must be very hard to say no to the opportunity of suiting up alongside the league’s greatest player. Every young forward would relish the chance to observe No. 87 on a daily basis during an 82-game season, pick his brain and soak up all his knowledge. Playing for the deeply constructed reigning Stanley Cup champs means that Vesey’s role could be limited, but the star power of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel would allow him to fly under the radar during his rookie year.
Sabres — Buffalo is smack dab in the middle of a rebuild. That can be perceived as a good thing or a bad thing. Out of all of Vesey’s suitors, the Sabres are probably the furthest from winning right away, but he could be enticed to join an exciting young core that includes Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. There’s a chance to play on a line with either Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly for years to come. Obviously, the winters in Buffalo are brutal, but that city is desperate for a winner and being part of a turnaround would be rewarding.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey