In their first major move of draft week, the Buffalo Sabres pulled a potentially big trade Monday by acquiring the rights to Harvard winger and Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey from the Nashville Predators for a third-round pick here on Saturday in First Niagara Center.
Vesey, who was drafted by Nashville in 2012, has declined to sign with the Predators and will be an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15. The Sabres traded the No. 76 pick to Nashville for the rights to an exclusive negotiating window with the 6-foot-2 Vesey, a left winger who had 80 goals in four years for Harvard.
Vesey, 23, is close friends with Sabres center Jack Eichel and they are playing on the same summer league team in Foxborough, Mass. One of Vesey's advisors is Peter Fish, who happens to be Eichel's agent. Eichel and Vesey played together with Team USA's bronze-medal team at last year's World Championships in the Czech Republic.
Vesey had 24 goals and 46 points in 33 games last season in winning the award given to college hockey's top player. He was beaten out by Eichel for the Hobey in 2015 when he had 32 goals and 58 points in 37 games.
The Sabres almost certainly feel they'll be able to sign Vesey long before he becomes a UFA in August, and felt giving up one of their four third-round picks would be an easy price to pay to keep other teams away from him.
The Vesey Sweepstakes was expected to be a major one come August, with the Sabres among several teams known to be interested. Vesey's father was hired last year as a part-time scout by Toronto and his brother, Nolan, was a 2014 draft pick of the Leafs. There has been plenty of chatter of interest in Vesey by the Boston Bruins but Jimmy Vesey Sr. has said he prefer his son not have to deal with the pressure of playing for the hometown team.
The Predators were holding a top-9 position for Vesey to come on their roster for the Stanley Cup playoffs, and were angry when he opted not to sign because they claim he had given them their word that he would join their team.
Vesey is certainly pegged to be NHL-ready and Eichel needs a left winger to join his line along with Sam Reinhart. During his end of season press conference, Sabres General Manager Tim Murray said he envisioned that Eichel's other winger was not yet on the roster, and many observers took that as a reference to Murray's hopes of getting involved with Vesey.
"It's been pretty clear since late March that we're not going to be able to sign Jimmy Vesey," Predators general manager David Poile told the Tennessean. "We were fully aware of what the rules are, that he'd become an unrestricted free agent in mid-August, and at that time, we'd receive no compensation of any kind for our investment and our asset. By trading him today, in my opinion, we recouped the (third-round) pick we used to acquire him."
On locker cleanout day, Eichel was effusive in what he would say to Vesey about what signing with the Sabres would be like.
Said Eichel that day: "It's a great future here. It's a great city to play in. It's a great team to be a part of. We have a young group that's headed in the right direction. It's definitely a hockey city. People care about you here. People would love to have you and it's a great place to play. .. This is definitely somewhere that would be a great place to play for him. I'll see him plenty this summer."