Sabres acquire rights to NCAA standout Vesey from Predators for third-round pick

The Nashville Predators weren’t able to lock up NCAA standout Jimmy Vesey, so now the Buffalo Sabres are going to give it a shot. The Sabres traded a third-round pick to the Predators for the exclusive negotiating rights to the 23-year-old winger.

Jimmy Vesey is the most sought after free agent coming out of the NCAA, but he won’t hit the open market until Aug. 15. And with the Nashville Predators, the team which drafted Vesey, knowing full well the 23-year-old won’t be signing with them, they’ve flipped the NCAA standout’s exclusive negotiating rights for a third-round pick.

In a deal that came out of left field, the Buffalo Sabres shipped a 2016 third-round pick, 76th overall, to the Predators in exchange the rights to talk contract with Vesey. While Buffalo could have waited until Vesey became an unrestricted free agent, getting his rights now gives Sabres GM Tim Murray time to try to convince Vesey that Buffalo is the right fit, and Murray sees reasons why Vesey would want to suit up for the Sabres.

“Why not us? Why not give it a shot? We have a spot in our top six for him,” Murray told TSN’s Bob McKenzie. “We had four 3rd-round picks. If I could’ve traded Jamie McGinn for Vesey’s rights at deadline, I’d have done it. We’ll give (signing Vesey) our best shot.”

It’s a bold move for the Sabres, but one that could pay big dividends. Vesey is projected to be a legitimate top-six player in the league and some believe he could be a 30-40 point player in the NHL as soon as next season. Vesey notched 24 goals and 46 points in 33 games with Harvard this past season and, at 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, has the frame to step right into the pro game.

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There’s also the chance the Sabres have an ace in the hole here, too: Peter Fish, Vesey’s agent, also represents young Sabres star Jack Eichel. Vesey has some history with Eichel, too, as both played together at the 2015 World Championship for Team USA. There could be a connection there, and having the relationship built between Vesey’s agent, Eichel and the Sabres could help Murray and Co. get the NCAA star under contract.

As for the Predators, this is an unfortunate end to a contract negotiation they were hoping would go in their favor. Nashville was hoping ahead of their post-season run that Vesey would choose to join the Predators, but he instead chose to test the free agent market. Monday’s trade was simply Poile trying to recover something for his asset.

“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,” Poile told The Tennesean’s Adam Vingan. “By trading him today, in my opinion, we recouped the (third-round) pick we used to acquire him…I think that this extra pick allows us some flexibility to use to pick a prospect or to use as part of a trade.”