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Jimmy Vesey's decision day getting closer

Hobey Baker-winning forward becomes unrestricted free agent Tuesday

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The wait for Jimmy Vesey and the NHL teams hoping to sign him could soon be over.

Vesey, a Harvard graduate and 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner, will become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday. The Boston Herald reported Thursday that Vesey, 23, was, "finalizing a list of no more than a half-dozen teams" he planned to speak with, so some of the interested teams won't get a chance to make their pitch.

"I think we have a small number of teams that I think we'll really be focusing on," Vesey told NHL.com on July 7. "So, Aug. 15 we'll start talking to them and see what they say."

Those on Vesey's list will be limited by the NHL entry-level contract system, so the left wing's decision will be less about money than his role and potential future.

The team that signs Vesey (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) will receive an NHL-ready player who had 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 33 games last season, and 144 points (80 goals, 64 assists) in 128 games during his four-season Harvard career.

Vesey's saga has taken a few twists and turns since the Nashville Predators selected him in the third round (No. 66) of the 2012 NHL Draft. The Predators hoped Vesey would sign with them after completing his senior season at Harvard in March and offered him a spot among their top six forwards heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead, Vesey opted to wait for his chance to become an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

The Predators traded him to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2016 third-round pick on June 20. Though joining the Sabres would provide the opportunity to play with good friend Jack Eichel, Vesey did not alter his plan to pursue unrestricted free agency after meeting with Sabres representatives July 7 in Boston.

Video: What does the future hold for prospect Jimmy Vesey?

So the waiting game continued when NHL team executives made their way to Foxborough, Mass., to watch Vesey play summer hockey in the Foxboro Pro League.

With the time for Vesey to make a decision here, here's a look at the contenders (in alphabetical order), and how he might fit with each of them:

Boston Bruins: Vesey's father, Jim Vesey, played briefly for the Bruins, and Vesey, who was born in Boston, grew up rooting for them. He confirmed to Comcast SportsNet New England that they are on the list of teams he plans to speak with, so being close to home might be a factor. With the Bruins trying to retool an aging team on the fly, adding a young forward to their top six would be a significant boost and particularly helpful after losing Loui Eriksson as an unrestricted free agent (Vancouver Canucks).

Buffalo Sabres: Vesey did not close the door on signing with the Sabres, and the chance to play with Eichel on a team on the rise has to be intriguing. The future is bright in Buffalo with Eichel, forwards Sam Reinhart and Alexander Nylander, and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen forming a promising young nucleus. It would be even brighter if Vesey signs.

Chicago Blackhawks: The Providence Journal reported multiple visits by Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman to Foxboro Sports Center this summer and at least one from coach Joel Quenneville. Salary-cap concerns have pushed the Blackhawks into trading away young forwards Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen since they won the Stanley Cup in 2015, so signing Vesey would help restock at a less expensive price.

They did something similar last season when they signed Artemi Panarin from the Kontinental Hockey League and put him on a line with Patrick Kane. It paid off, with Panarin scoring 30 goals and winning the Calder Trophy. If Vesey picks the Blackhawks, he could have the chance to play on a line with Jonathan Toews.

New Jersey Devils: GM Ray Shero was spotted watching Vesey in Foxboro last week, and assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald has a long relationship with Vesey's parents from living in the Boston area. So maybe the Devils are more than a dark horse in this race. They appear to be a team on the rise, with an elite goaltender, Cory Schneider, and can offer Vesey a chance to play regularly on one of their top two lines.

The Devils already have upgraded their skill at forward the past two offseasons, with trades for Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall. With prospect centers Pavel Zacha, Joseph Blandisi and Michael McLeod on the way, landing Vesey would push the Devils' rebuild to the next level.   

New York Rangers: The Rangers have gone this route before, signing forward Kevin Hayes as an unrestricted free agent two years ago after he chose not to sign with the Blackhawks coming out of Boston College. Having traded away their past four first-round picks, the Rangers need to utilize other ways to acquire top-end, young talent.

Signing Vesey would infuse some additional new blood following the acquisition of center Mika Zibanejad, 23, from the Ottawa Senators in a trade for center Derick Brassard, 28, on July 18.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Vesey's ties to the Maple Leafs are obvious; his father is an amateur scout for Toronto and his younger brother, Nolan Vesey, was selected by the Maple Leafs in the sixth round (No. 158) of the 2014 draft.

The Maple Leafs have built up an impressive collection of young players, headed by 2016 No. 1 pick Auston Matthews. Getting to be part of that group in the coming years might be enticing for Vesey and further raise expectations for a promising future in Toronto.

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