FOXBOROUGH — On Wednesday, his perch at Foxboro Sports Center gave Ron Anderson an ideal viewing spot to watch what could be.
Anderson, Chicago’s director of player recruitment, had settled onto the platform of the stairs above Rink 2, positioned approximately at the red line, when his hoped-for prize did what he does best.
On his first shift of that night’s Foxboro Sports Center Pro League’s game between Team Harlow and Team Keator, Jimmy Vesey played give-and-go with Garnet Hathaway. Hathaway, who played 14 games for Calgary last year, gave Vesey a return pass at the edge of the crease.
Scott Darling, Corey Crawford’s backup in Chicago, pushed from left to right to close down Vesey’s approach. It didn’t matter. As soon as Hathaway’s pass landed on his blade, Vesey flicked his wrists and canned a bar-down riser.
Anderson saw it. So did Garth Snow, general manager of the Islanders. New Jersey GM Ray Shero was also in attendance.
The Blackhawks, Islanders, and Devils are among the teams hoping to see Vesey turn in his gray summer jersey for a uniform of their respective colors. That could happen soon.
“We’re obviously looking forward to next week and sitting down face-to-face with teams,” Vesey said on Wednesday. “By doing that, we can get a little bit of a better feel of where they see me fitting in to their team.”
At 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, the Harvard graduate will finally become an unrestricted free agent. Vesey has been pursuing this status for some time.
On June 23, 2012, Nashville drafted Vesey in the third round. Upon the conclusion of his college career, Vesey informed Nashville he would become a free agent by not signing by Monday’s deadline. Since June 20, Vesey has been Buffalo property after the Sabres acquired his rights for a 2016 third-round pick.
Once Monday turns into Tuesday, Vesey will be free to speak with every team. The Charlestown native confirmed the Bruins are on his short list. Vesey’s hometown club could use his services. Vesey has elements of Mike Hoffman, Patrick Marleau, and Tanner Pearson in his portfolio. Last year’s Hobey Baker winner (24 goals and 22 assists in 33 games) is a good skater who transitions quickly to cruising speed. He’s clever with the puck in dangerous areas. While Vesey’s shot is his strength, he can also distribute the puck.
Once the 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound Vesey acclimates to NHL pace, physicality, and three-zone thoroughness, he could become a second-line left wing, slotting in between Brad Marchand and Matt Beleskey. But offering a workplace within a half-hour drive of Vesey’s North Reading home will not be enough to make the Bruins a lock.
In Chicago, Jonathan Toews could be Vesey’s setup man. The Devils need left-wing assistance to support Taylor Hall and Mike Cammalleri. It’s possible Vesey could take shifts alongside John Tavares in Brooklyn.
There are other chasers, too. Toronto employs father Jim Vesey as a scout and owns brother Nolan Vesey’s rights. The Rangers employ Kevin Hayes, Vesey’s friend who went through the process by choosing to become unrestricted by not signing with Chicago.
Select teams will make their pitches to Vesey and agent Peter Fish in Boston on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“He said I’m going to know in my gut after going through the meetings,” Vesey said of Hayes, who has provided occasional counsel because of his experience. “I’m just going to do more listening than talking and see what they have to say. I’m just trying to get into the NHL and stay there with wherever I see my best opportunity.”
Vesey has an idea of what is to come. In July, Vesey and Fish met with Buffalo GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma. The Sabres’ bosses pitched Vesey on Buffalo, the organization’s prospects, and the opportunity to ride shotgun with friend Jack Eichel, who is also represented by Fish. Despite ceding an asset to land his rights, Murray told Vesey he respected his decision to become a free agent.
“Buffalo certainly explained their situation and how it would benefit Jimmy,” Fish said. “They obviously had a lot of attractive personnel and players Jimmy could play with. But again, Jimmy, in his mind, wanted to go to free agency and compare all the teams at the same time. That way, it’s not like there’s one team, then wait a while. It’s, ‘Here we all are, let’s get it all out, then see what’s the best fit.’ ”
Rosters for 2016-17 are close to set. Teams have spent most of their money. But several hopefuls have allocated one spot and $2.85 million in cap space ($925,000 in base pay, $1.925 million in performance bonuses) toward a 23-year-old who has yet to play pro hockey. They believe Vesey is worth the chase.