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Pressure on Jimmy Vesey after choosing Rangers

Forward opted for free agency instead of signing with Predators, Sabres following senior year at Harvard

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

Jimmy Vesey had the right to become an unrestricted free agent and agree to terms with the New York Rangers on Friday. Whether he was right to do it is a matter of opinion. Whether he was smart to do it remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: He made the decision, and he needs to own it. He accepted the benefits, and he needs to accept the consequences, intended or unintended.

After playing at Harvard for four seasons and winning the 2016 Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA's top player, Vesey could have signed with the Nashville Predators, who selected him in the third round (No. 66) of the 2012 NHL Draft. He could have signed with the Buffalo Sabres, who traded a third-round pick for his rights. He didn't, and that's his prerogative.

Under the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association, teams have a little more than four years to sign college players or lose their rights. As of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Vesey was free to sign with the team of his choice to a two-year entry-level contract with a base salary of $925,000 and a maximum of $2.85 million in bonuses, creating an unusual dynamic.

This was a rare opportunity for teams to add an NHL-ready player on a salary-cap-friendly contract without giving up an asset. But because they all would offer the same contract, they would have to separate themselves from their competition in the recruiting process, and so Jimmy Vesey might as well have been Wayne Gretzky.

"It's pretty well-documented that a real good player on an entry-level contract, every team needs those guys," Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. "That's going to help you in a salary-cap world. Obviously, that's a part of it. But at the end of the day, he's a really good player that becomes a free agent. Every team's going to want to try to go for something like that."

Video: Breaking News: Rangers sign Jimmy Vesey

Vesey and his agents whittled the list of interested teams to seven and invited them to Boston for meetings. Star players made pitches in person, like Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane and New York Islanders center John Tavares. The Rangers made a highlight video with celebrity cameos, and celebrities pushed Vesey to the Rangers on Twitter with the hashtag #JVtoNYR. As soon as Vesey chose the Rangers, actress Susan Sarandon tweeted her congratulations.

Susan Sarandon? Seriously?

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

Vesey might not have asked for it or intended it, but he did sign up for it when he decided not to sign with the Predators or Sabres. Now he has to deal with the good and the bad.

The Rangers had a lot to offer: an Original Six franchise, the New York lifestyle and Boston connections. Chris Drury, the 1998 Hobey Baker winner from Boston University, is their director of player development. Forwards Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes went to Boston College.

Vesey has known Hayes since childhood. They played together a little growing up and work out together in the summer. Hayes went through the same process, when the Chicago Blackhawks selected him in the first round (No. 24) of the 2010 draft and he signed with the Rangers instead in 2014.

Most importantly, the Rangers offered opportunity.

"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," Vesey said. "But I thought New York was somewhere that I could plug in right away and be on the opening night roster."

But the Rangers offered that opportunity because they traded their first-round pick in each of the past four drafts plus their second-round pick in the 2016 draft. And although Vesey said they don't expect him to be a "savior," what will the fans and media expect after all this attention?

And what about the rest of the League? The Predators aren't happy. The Sabres aren't happy. Vesey also said no to his hometown Bruins, Kane and the Blackhawks, Tavares and the Islanders, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils, not to mention the teams that didn't make his short list.

"As an athlete," he said, "I think I put pressure on myself on my own."

He might be more right than he knows.

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