College free agent forward Jimmy Vesey tried not to pay attention to New York Rangers’ celebrity fans as they took to Twitter in droves to try to convince him to play for their team.
Eventually Vesey’s friends got ahold of him to inform the Harvard grad that New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, actor Jerry Ferrara and local radio host and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason had sent their Rangers’ pitches into cyberspace.
— Noah Syndergaard (@Noahsyndergaard) August 17, 2016
There was even a rumor that actor Liam Neeson shot a video, using a line from his movie “Taken” to get Vesey to come to New York. Vesey would not confirm or deny the Neeson video in a conference call to talk about his decision to go with the Rangers, but ultimately he enjoyed seeing some of the city’s biggest names push for him.
“They were pretty funny and pretty cool that those celebrities were reaching out to me,” Vesey said. “I don’t think it had a factor in 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.”
Vesey said he chose New York because the Rangers had the best presentation for him and because he believed he could contribute right away. Vesey was drafted by the Nashville Predators with a third-round pick in 2012, but decided not to sign with the team, choosing free agency instead. Vesey, who won the Hobey Baker Award in 2015-16, hit the open market Tuesday and said he considered eight teams before deciding on New York.
“I think for me the thing that jumped out at me was that they came to really want me,” Vesey said. “Talking to them, it seemed that they really needed to have me in their lineup and it seemed that they believe in me. That was something that I was looking for. And I think based on our talks, New York was the right fit.”
Vesey said he spoke with Kevin Hayes, who was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 before going a similar path and signing with New York in 2014, about how to handle the situation.
“He had a big impact on me,” Vesey said of Hayes.
Vesey also said that former Rangers forward Chris Drury who is currently the team’s director of player development, played a big role in grabbing his attention. Drury won the Hobey Baker with Boston University before embarking on an NHL career that lasted 892 games.
“Chris Drury was someone I was really impressed with in the meeting with the Rangers and he’s someone I respect a lot based on what he’s done in his career,” Vesey said. “There was definitely some ties to New England and my home, but that was just one of many factors in the decision.”
Vesey’s decision has been one of the most talked about hockey personnel moves since March when he decided to go to free agency.
The Buffalo Sabres acquired Vesey’s rights earlier in the offseason and tried to sign the player before he was free to talk with other teams. The Boston Bruins were considered a front-runner at one point. The Toronto Maple Leafs pushed for him with 2016 No. 1 pick Auston Matthews. The Chicago Blackhawks put a hard pitch on Vesey and were reportedly a finalist for his services before the player chose the Rangers. Superstar Patrick Kane was part of the contingent the Chicago Blackhawks sent to meet with Vesey.
Vesey even admitted that the attention was overwhelming at points.
“It definitely took on a life of its own, so to speak,” Vesey said. “I’m not sure that me or anyone else expected that. That’s not something that I signed up for. If you talk to anyone that knows me, I’m a quiet kid and I really have 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.”
Will the high profile nature of Vesey’s free agency make his transition to the NHL more difficult? Vesey said that it shouldn’t change how he will approach the upcoming season.
“As an athlete I think I put pressure on myself on my own,” Vesey said. “I think all athletes do to perform to the best of their abilities and I talked to the Rangers and that staff, and it’s not really like – they don’t expect me to come in and be a savior, I think I’m just a piece they want to add and hopefully I can help the New York Rangers win hockey games.
It’s unclear what exactly Vesey can bring as a player since he’s never played an NHL game. The Predators, who had Vesey in their organization from 2012 until they traded him to Buffalo, reportedly believed Vesey would have fit into their top-six forwards at the end of last year and into the playoffs.
Last season he had 24 goals in 33 games for Harvard while capturing the Hobey Baker. The last two years, he’s notched 104 points in 70 games played for the Crimson. Vesey has confidence that his frame can handle the NHL grind and produce at that level.
“In terms of me as a player, I think I’m a big body. 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, so I think I like to play a little bit of a mix between power forward and a skilled forward and I think my offensive instincts are definitely the strong suit of my game,” he said.
Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton tried to not heap too many expectations on Vesey when asked how the young forward could fit into the Rangers’ lineup.
“It’s hard to say. I think that he’s got an ability to score, he can make plays, he’s a very talented player,” Gorton said. “Where, what number, what line, I wouldn’t want to go down that road and say yet. But I think he can come in and play. I think he’s going to come in in training camp and do his best to try to fit in as high as he can in our lineup and that’s what we’re looking for.”
It’s a low-risk move for the Rangers overall. Vesey’s salary carries a $925,000 cap hit for the next two seasons, so if he works out in New York, the Rangers will have a low-priced high-scoring asset. If Vesey struggles at the NHL level then it won’t cost the Rangers that much from a cap perspective.
“It’s pretty well-documented that a real good player on an entry-level contract, every team needs those guys,” Gorton said. “That’s going to help you in a salary-cap world. Obviously that’s part of it. But at the end of the day, if it’s a really good player that becomes a free agent, every team’s going to want to try to go for something like that. We were a part of that, and thankfully, we were lucky enough to get him.”
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