TAMPA — Jimmy Vesey, denied the Hobey Baker Award a year ago when BU freshman Jack Eichel copped college hockey’s coveted award, turned a second chance into a charm here Friday, the Harvard University senior forward presented with the game’s top honor in early-evening ceremonies held in the near-century-old Tampa Theater.
Thanking teammates, friends and family, the strapping 6-foot-1-inch winger from North Reading was humble and brief in his remarks. Now just some six weeks from receiving his Harvard diploma, he noted, “It’s been a blast, and I am sad it’s over.’’
Of far greater intrigue, of course, is where Vesey will play next season once signing his first pro contract this summer. A 2012 Nashville draft pick (third round, 66th overall selection), he recently notified the Predators he intends to explore the NHL free agent market as of Aug. 15 — the “liberation’’ date for players who, like Vesey, play four full seasons of college hockey.
Based on his comments after the Hobey Baker ceremony, his first public remarks on the issue, Vesey made it clear he has little intention of finalizing a deal with the Preds and spoke eagerly of choosing one of the “other 29 teams’’ in the NHL once Aug. 15 arrives.
“At the end of the day, I just wasn’t ready to sign a contract,’’ he said, referring to his decision to notify the Preds he will opt for free agency.
“At this point I am just going to try to enjoy my last month or so as a college kid and have some fun with my classmates and make sure I am at graduation to receive my diploma. Then this summer I’ll train as hard as I ever have, get in great shape, and pick a team in August.’’
Both Vesey and his father shot down a recent published report that the top prospect, who scored 56 goals with the Crimson over the last two seasons, has made a decision to sign with the hometown Bruins.
In fact, the senior Vesey told a small number of reporters here that his advice would be for his son not to sign with the hometown NHL club. Ultimately, said the former Merrimack College star, his son will decide for himself, but as a father he feels the scrutiny in Boston would placeunnecessary pressure on the 22-year-old.
“My advice, personally,’’ said the senior Vesey, “I’d like to see him start [his career] somewhere else . . . [saying that] as a dad. But who knows. There might be some changes in Boston. There might be a new coach, you don’t know.’’
Kiddingly, the elder Vesey mused that (former Bruin) Adam Oates could be the next Boston coach, making that sound like it would be an enticing prospect for his son.
“So, who knows . . . everything changes, everything changes,’’ he said, noting, more than once, that the NHL is a business and therefore must be approached as such.
A series of shoulder injuries and subsequent surgeries ended the elder Vesey’s pro career at age 29. In September of last year, he became a regional scout for the Maple Leafs, the team that in 2014 drafted his son Nolan, who is two years younger than Jimmy and plays for the University of Maine.
The elder Vesey encouraged everyone to ignore all the rumors where Jimmy might sign. He has heard them all, says nothing has been decided, and ultimately he will leave it to his kid with a Harvard degree (as of May 26) to make up his own mind.
“It looks like the fix is in,’’ said the elder Vesey, agreeing that one might think his Hobey Baker-winning son is on course to sign with the Leafs because of his father’s affiliation with the club. “But that’s not going to scare him off from interviewing with Toronto. I can’t say he’s going to Toronto or Boston. I mean, for crying out loud, I know Donny Sweeney, I know Cam Neely . . . ’’
Asked if he would like to see his sons play together on the same NHL team, he added, “In a perfect world, I would, but [Jimmy] is the one who has to make that decision. I don’t want him to come back one day and say, ‘Oh, dad . . . ’ He’s a bright kid . . . he’s a 22 year old, graduating from Harvard, he’s a lot smarter than I’d ever be.’’
Asked specifically about the recent report he will sign with Boston, the soon-to-graduate winger said, “I don’t know where that’s coming from. I’m not allowed to talk to any team until Aug. 15. There are 29 teams I can look at, and I’ll find the best fit for me.’’
Vesey follows Jack Eichel (Boston University, 2015) and Johnny Gaudreau (Boston College, 2014) as the third local player in three seasons to win the Hobey.
. . .
Two-time Holy Cross captain Matt Vidal was the recipient of the 2016 Derek Hines Unsung Hero Award, named in honor of the former St. John’s Prep star who went to a four-year career at Army West Point (1999-2003). He was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 1, 2005, in Afghanistan . . . Air Force senior Chris Dylewski won the Hockey Humanitarian Award, which recognizes college hockey’s finest citizen. Harvard forward Kyle Criscuolo, Babson goalie Jamie Murray, and Brown defenseman Alli Rolandelli were also finalists.