If Jimmy Vesey waits until Aug. 15 to hit free agency, he’s going to have a lot of options, but the Sabres are hopping the draw of playing with Jack Eichel and the promise of a real shot at playing big minutes are enough to lock him up before the NCAA’s top free agent hits the open market.
Sabres GM Tim Murray has already made it clear that he’s going to push hard to sign Vesey and isn’t afraid to use rookie sensation Eichel’s relationship with the Harvard standout to get a deal done, but coach Dan Bylsma told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen something equally, if not more, appealing: the promise of top-six minutes.
"First and foremost, he's got the opportunity to play a top-six role with our team,” Bylsma told Rosen. “He’s got the opportunity to play in a top-six role with a centerman like Jack or Ryan [O’Reilly] possibly, depending on how that would play out…We can surround him with Jack and Sam [Reinhart], but even our veteran players are young players like Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, now Kyle Okposo. He's got a chance to grow with that group and be a great team. I think that's the best opportunity for him in the (NHL.)”
For some NCAA standouts, the promise of real playing time can be enough to sway them. On a number of teams, Vesey would likely begin his career playing third-line minutes and getting his feet wet before jumping into full-time top-six minutes. The offer to go from NCAA straight to top-six doesn’t come along often, and Bylsma is right in saying that the Sabres could offer Vesey that chance immediately.
At present, the left wing is where the Sabres have the least forward depth, which makes Vesey a natural fit. After Kane, the second-best left winger would be Tyler Ennis, and while he’s no slouch, that’s a precipitous drop-off in pure offensive ability.
The options Bylsma laid out for pivots to play alongside Vesey could be tempting to the 23-year-old, as well. Playing with Eichel would mean skating on a line with a young, standout center who could be one of the league’s top stars in a few short years. On the other hand, playing with O’Reilly would give Vesey the chance to have a responsible two-way pivot on his line and one who could help cover up any missteps Vesey makes as he makes the transition into the NHL.
None of this is to mention, as Bylsma said, the chance to learn from the likes of Kane and Okposo. Both are burly wingers and both play the style of game Vesey could model his own after. That’s a great opportunity, as well.
Then again, maybe Vesey sees opportunity elsewhere. The Boston native has been rumored to be considering signing with his hometown Bruins, and there has long been rumblings that Vesey could consider signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, for whom his dad is an amateur scout. But Bylsma told Rosen that the Sabres are happy with the opportunities they have presented Vesey with.
“We liked the meeting we had with him and we explained all that to him,” Bylsma said. “He still has every right to choose what he wants, but we felt good about having the opportunity to explain it to him and talk to him about the opportunity."
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