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Jimmy Vesey: 'Chance to stick in NHL' with Rangers

Harvard graduate says opportunity to play right away, Boston ties key factors in joining New York

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

Jimmy Vesey can finally sit back and breathe easy. The process is over. He's a member of the New York Rangers.

After weeks, if not months, of speculation about where he would play this season, the prized free agent forward agreed to terms with the Rangers on Friday.

Vesey was selected by the Nashville Predators in the third round (No. 66) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Despite having a chance to sign with the Predators and play for them near the end of the regular season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs after his senior season at Harvard University was complete, Vesey declined. His rights were traded to the Buffalo Sabres on June 20, and despite the Sabres' best efforts, they also were unable to agree to a contract with Vesey. He wanted to test the market as an unrestricted free agent, which he became on Tuesday.

It was a grueling process for Vesey, sometimes overwhelming given the attention it received, and one he's relieved he can put behind him.

"It definitely took on a life of its own, so to speak. I'm not sure that me or anyone else expected that, but that's not something I signed up for," Vesey said. "If you talk to anyone that knows me, I'm a quiet kid and I really had no intentions of it getting such a media craze. It was pretty hectic at times, so I'm just glad that the process is over now."

Video: Breaking News: Rangers sign Jimmy Vesey

So is Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton, who met Vesey, along with other members of his staff, including director of player development Chris Drury. They knew it would be no easy task to land Vesey's services, not when the list of potential suitors included the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. Gorton felt confident after his group met with Vesey's camp on Wednesday, but it wasn't until the decision was made that he could breathe a sigh of relief. Or scream in jubilation.

"I'd say that when we left the room, I would say that we felt really comfortable that we had a real good meeting, that we were able to touch on a lot of points that we wanted to," Gorton said. "I just thought that we had a connection with the young man.

"I was glad to see the caller ID and see the Boston number. I hurried to answer it. When he said, 'Hi, it's Jimmy Vesey and I made my decision and I'd like to come to New York,' I probably swore. I can't remember exactly what I did, but I'd say I had a pretty exciting comeback for him. I probably can't say it in public."

Gorton shot down rumors that Vesey had demanded an immediate top-six role.

"I never got the feeling that he was looking for any kind of promise," Gorton said. "I think that he's a pretty proud guy. I think that he's very confident in his ability, and when he looked at our team, I think he sees an opportunity to play. I think he likes the fact that some other players that we've brought in recently have gotten opportunities as young players. I think he enjoyed talking to [coach Alain Vigneault] and hearing what he had to say about playing young players and his style of play offensively.

"I think he really enjoyed meeting Chris Drury and seeing some similarities, [winning] the Hobey Baker (in 1998) and how he handles himself. For me, along the way in that meeting, I felt like we made a connection and he liked what we had to say, and obviously we liked him as a player."

There's plenty to like. Vesey, 23, had 24 goals, 22 assists and a plus-11 rating in 33 games during his final season at Harvard. He was rewarded for his efforts by being named the Hobey Baker Award winner as the nation's top college player. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound left wing played 128 games over four seasons at Harvard and had 80 goals and 64 assists. He scored 56 goals over his final 70 games.

"I think I like to play a little bit of a mix between a power forward and a skilled forward," Vesey said. "I think that my offensive instincts would definitely be the strong suit of my game."

How badly did the Rangers want Vesey? So much so they had various celebrities, from New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard to actress Susan Sarandon, attempt to woo the Harvard graduate on Twitter.

"To be honest, I tried to stay off social media this week as much as I could, but I had buddies and relatives texting me those tweets," Vesey said. "I was definitely aware of them, and they were pretty funny and pretty cool that those celebrities were reaching out to me. I don't think it kind of factored into the decision, so to speak, but one of the things I definitely liked about New York was the top-notch lifestyle that the city offers."

A native of North Reading, Mass., Vesey pointed to his strong relationships with members of the Rangers organization, particularly forward Kevin Hayes. Vesey admitted to asking for guidance from Hayes, a former first-round pick (No. 24) of the Blackhawks at the 2010 draft who ultimately declined to sign with Chicago and instead opted for free agency. He signed with New York in 2014.

Video: Jimmy Vesey on winning the 2016 Hobey Baker Award

"He's someone I've known since childhood," Vesey said of Hayes. "We played a little bit together growing up, and we work out together and skate in the summer. I've talked to Kevin a lot and he went through the same process as me two years ago, so I leaned a lot on him during the process. I think he definitely had a big impact on me. I'm also familiar with (Rangers forward) Chris Kreider from being from Massachusetts, and then Chris Drury was someone that I was really impressed with during the meeting with the Rangers and he's someone that I respect a lot based on what he's done in his career.

"There was definitely some ties to New England and my home, but I think that was just one of many factors in the decision."

Considering Vesey was never going to get more than an entry-level contract (two years, $925,000 per season base salary with bonuses) as per terms of the collective bargaining agreement, his decision was primarily based on which team would give him the best chance to step right in and play immediately. It appears the Rangers are willing to give him that opportunity, but Vesey said he realizes nothing will be handed to him when training camp opens next month.

The Rangers open the season against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 13.

"There's no guarantees in sports obviously, but I feel that New York is somewhere that I can plug in right away and play and hopefully stick in the NHL," Vesey said. "It's obviously not just going to be given to me; I'm going to have to put in the work and perform on the ice. But I thought New York was somewhere that I could plug in right away and be on the opening night roster."

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