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Big decision looming for prized free-agent Jimmy Vesey

NHL teams are trying to woo the summer's prized college free agent with a defined role, championship potential, friends and family connections, and hometown pride.

The summer's longest running free agency drama is finally nearing a conclusion.

Jimmy Vesey, the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner, officially hit the market at 12:01 AM Tuesday morning. Now, the 23-year-old power forward and his agents can begin to meet with a select number of interested teams in Boston, with a decision on his future likely coming by the end of the week.

Vesey will receive a max entry-level contract—two years at $925,000 plus $2.85 million in performance bonuses—so money won't be a lure. Instead, teams will look to woo him with a defined role, championship potential, friends and family connections and hometown pride.

It's not known yet how many teams will be involved in the process but the Chicago Blackhawks, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins are all believed to have been invited to make their pitch.

The Buffalo Sabres are also in the mix. They acquired Vesey's rights in a trade with Nashville on June 20 after he informed the Predators that he planned to take advantage of a clause in the league's collective bargaining agreement to become a free agent.

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Although that gamble didn't convince Vesey to sign early, the Sabres still look like an appealing option. The organization boasts a wealth of young talent, including Vesey's friend and summer training partner Jack Eichel and, while they're not close to contending now, their future is very bright. The Maple Leafs and Islanders are likely to employ the same blue-sky strategy to lure Vesey, although Toronto has two aces in the hole: Vesey's father and brother are part of the organization.

The Bruins will try to sell Vesey, a native of Charlestown, Mass., on the opportunity to play for his hometown team, as well wearing the sweater that his father, Jim, once wore. The Rangers will dangle the chance to play in the league's biggest market, with all the endorsement opportunities that entails, along with the chance to be part of the team's transition to youth alongside his buddy, Kevin Hayes. Pittsburgh can offer a chance to play with the defending champs and, possibly, a spot on a line with Sidney Crosby.

But the two most intriguing options might be the Devils and Blackhawks. New Jersey has come from out of nowhere to become a leading contender for Vesey's services. They can offer a chance to play under John Hynes, who made a strong impression in his rookie season behind the bench, on a team where he would be certain to skate top-six minutes. Chicago, meanwhile, is the league's model franchise, a three-time Stanley Cup winner built to contend for the next five years. With Brandon Saad gone to Columbus, Vesey projects as a possible replacement on the top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.

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That's a tough offer to top from a hockey perspective, but there's no telling what's in Vesey's heart. What does the chance to stay in Boston mean to the former Harvard Crimson star? Do family ties make the Leafs irresistible?

And then there's the larger question: Is he worth the hype?  We've seen similarly heralded college free agents come and go without making a splash, so there are no guarantees.

But he certainly looks the part at 6' 3" and 205 pounds. And his last two seasons at Harvard were impressive, with Vesey totaling 56 goals and 104 points in 70 games.

With nothing at risk but cap space, it's easy to see why he's so coveted. But it's also clear that choosing a destination is just the first step. Once he does that, it's up to Vesey to prove he belongs.