Jeff Gorton admits that he had an uncomfortable feeling about his team's chances of signing the highly sought after free agent forward Jimmy Vesey, but all of that changed Friday afternoon when his cell phone rang and a Boston area code appeared on the screen.
"I was glad to see the Caller ID, being a Boston number, so I answered and then he said 'This is Jimmy Vesey. I made my decision and I'd like to come to New York', and I had a pretty exciting response, probably one I can't say in public," Gorton told reporters on a conference call Friday evening. "Until he called me today and told me he was coming, I would say I was uncomfortable because you never know. You just never know."
That phone call concluded a highly-publicized four days of free agency for the 23 year-old Vesey, the 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner who opted to test free agency on August 15 after finishing his four-year collegiate career at Harvard this past spring.
The high-scoring forward was courted by many teams and chose to listen to presentations from seven clubs this week, as well as one from the Buffalo Sabres who had acquired his rights in a trade with the Nashville Predators in June. He and his agents went about their business in an extremely professional manner, and there were no leaks as to what he was thinking throughout the process.
"When we left the room I would say we felt really comfortable that we had a really good meeting and that we were able to touch on a lot of the points we wanted to," Gorton said of his team's pitch to Vesey. "We just thought we had a connection with the young man. Of course, without having spoken to the other teams, there were seven teams and I'm sure we all felt the same way."
Vesey told reporters on Friday that he was very impressed with the Rangers, who were represented by Gorton, head coach Alain Vigneault and Chris Drury, the team's Director of Player Development, during their presentation; and when the dust settled he knew New York is where he wanted to begin his professional hockey career.
"It was definitely a tough decision, but myself, my agents, and my family were very impressed with the Rangers," stated Vesey, the Boston native who was also a Hobey Baker Award Finalist in 2015. "I just thought New York was somewhere I could play and hopefully stick in the NHL. They seemed to really want me and really believe in me, and that was something I was really looking for. After all the talks I thought this was the right fit."
Vesey also admitted there were other factors in his decision--such as the chance to play on the same NHL team with his childhood friend Kevin Hayes in a city with a "top-notch lifestyle like New York". Though he thought it was "funny" that celebrities such as actress Susan Sarandon and New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard--among others--took to social media to convince him to choose the Rangers, Vesey said that was not among the factors to sway his decision in New York's favor.
In the end this was a hockey decision, both by the player and the team. Vesey will have a legitimate shot to play an important role on the Rangers once training camp opens next month and the Rangers greatly improve their depth by adding another younger talented player.
"There's no guarantees in sports obviously, but I feel that New York is somewhere I can plug in right away and play and hopefully stick in the NHL," explained Vesey.
Added Gorton, "This was an opportunity, a real good player became available...and we're trying to replace some of that depth we've had in the past. We're trying to get as many young players as we can. The game is getting faster and younger and more skilled all the time. So we're really excited to get a player like this. It's a very exciting day for us."
In Vesey the Rangers have added a skilled offensive player with good size and hockey smarts. Last year he scored 24 goals, added 22 assists and totaled 46 points in 33 games while serving as Harvard's captain. As a junior the year before Vesey established career-highs with 32 goals, 26 assists and 58 points in 37 games.
"I think he has the ability to score, he can make plays," offered Gorton. "He's a very talented player. He's a really good player with a lot of intangibles. I think he can come in and play."
Vesey, who describes himself as "a quiet kid", said Friday that his main goal was not be a "savior" for the team, but just wanted to help the Rangers "win hockey games".
"I'm a big body--6'2", 205 pounds--and I think I like to play a mix of a power forward and a skilled forward," stated Vesey. "I think my offensive instincts would be the strong suit of my game."
Neither Gorton nor Vesey would comment on where the newest Blueshirt might fit in among the team's forwards once the regular season starts--top-six, third line--but it was clear that both were thrilled the reigning college player of the year had chosen to be a New York Ranger.
"We're very happy today," summed up Gorton. "There's still a lot of work to do, but we think we have some good youth and this (move) helps that."