- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Getting forward Jimmy Vesey under contract is now Tim Murray’s challenge after the Buffalo Sabres general manager acquired the rights to college hockey’s top player Monday in a trade with the Nashville Predators.

The Sabres gave up their second of four third-round picks to essentially gain exclusive negotiating rights with Vesey before he’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15.

The 23-year-old Vesey won the Hobey Baker Award in completing his senior year at Harvard last season. In March, Vesey informed the Predators he was opting to become a free agent rather than sign with Nashville, which selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft.

“It’s a gamble,” Murray told The Associated Press by phone. “I don’t consider it to be a bold move because we’ve got four third-round picks.”

Murray said he has left phone messages, but has had no contact yet with Vesey or his representatives, which leaves him unsure of the chances of the Sabres signing the player.

“He went this long so it’s like anybody else that you’re trading for his rights,” Murray said. “We’ll have conversations with him and try to convince him to sign.”

A message left with Vesey’s representatives was not returned.

Trade talks took place over the weekend, with Predators GM David Poile telling the AP that most every NHL team contacted him about Vesey.

“It was just time to move on,” Poile said, noting he wanted to have a trade completed before the draft opens in Buffalo on Friday. “We knew we weren’t going to be able to sign him and we wanted to get the best out of the deal.”

Poile was particularly disappointed in March, when Vesey informed the Predators about his decision to pursue free agency. Poile called the decision a “shocker” and said it was “bizarre” how the team could not meet with Vesey, his family or the player’s representatives.

The Sabres had the benefit of having a stockpile of 12 picks entering the draft. The Predators acquired the 76th selection, which Buffalo obtained from Minnesota.

“I think any team would’ve done that deal,” Murray said. “We like Jimmy a lot and think he’s top six forward.”

At 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, Vesey led the Crimson and finished third in the ECAC with 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 33 games last season. Overall, he has 80 goals and 64 assists in 128 games at Harvard.

He’s from North Reading, Massachusetts, and helped the U.S. win a gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Championships.

In Buffalo, Vesey has the opportunity to join a rebuilding team that’s stocked with young talent, including forwards Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. The Sabres finished 23rd with a 35-36-11 record last season after two seasons in which they had the NHL’s worst record.

In a separate move, the Sabres signed forward Nicolas Deslauriers to a two-year contract extension. Deslauriers was eligible to become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s a physical forward, who had six goals and six assists in 70 games last year in his second full season in Buffalo.

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