The New Jersey Devils won the Will Butcher sweepstakes on Sunday, such as it was, with a two-year entry-level deal worth $925,000 annually for the 2016-17 Hobey Baker Award winner.
After four years at the University of Denver, the defenseman opted not to sign with the Colorado Avalanche – after being drafted 123rd overall at the 2013 NHL Draft – and became this summer’s NCAA free agent prize. He was a team captain, leading Denver to a NCAA national championship in 2016-17.
“We’ve talked more about what best suits him in terms of style of play,” Montgomery said. “The coaches in terms of different teams that are trying to recruit him, and just the opportunity to be part of a really good organization and be able to play in the NHL, whether that’s this year or in the near future. We really haven’t talked about what entails for the next two or three years for him. It’s more about staying in the now, and if he does the work, the future will take care of itself.”
Among the teams Butcher spoke with, or who were rumored to have significant interest in him: The Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights.
So why choose the Devils? A few theories:
This has to be paramount in this decision.
Prior to this signing, the Devils’ left-hand shooting defensemen on the roster were Andy Greene, John Moore, Michael Kapla and Mirco Mueller.
Butcher played right defense for the last two seasons in Denver, where the Devils currently have Damon Severson, Steven Santini, Mirco Mueller, Ben Lovejoy and Dalton Prout. But he’s played the left side in the past as well.
Butcher should see ample power-play time for a Devils team that had Severson lead their defensemen with 13 power-play points. Their next-highest scorer on defense during the man advantage had three points.
He’s going to play and going to play an important role right off the hop.
Ray Shero And John Hynes
Credit has to be given to Shero for closing this deal.
On the one hand, he likely sold Butcher on the style of play the Devils want under coach John Hynes, which is an aggressive and attacking style seems to play into Butcher’s skills set without demanding him to be something he’s not. (Like hulking or speedy.)
But let’s not underestimate the USA Hockey connection here. Shero has been a part of the USA Hockey braintrust for years. Hynes is one of the more accomplished head coaches in the USA Hockey development program over the last 15 years.
Butcher was in that program from 2011-13 and won two world junior U-18 medals for the Americans.
Also note that Butcher’s agent, Stephen Bartlett, has worked with Shero in the past as the agent for Rob Scuderi and Steve Sullivan, as well as a recent signing for the Devils:
Will Butcher's agent is Steve Bartlett, who is also Drew Stafford's agent. #NJDEVILS
— Steven Liberman (@StevenLiberman) August 26, 2017
Huh. Nice of him to do Stafford a solid, huh?
Just spitballing, here, but never underestimate how basic the thought processes can be for these players. Butcher skated with Nolan Zajac for three seasons in Denver. His brother, Travis, has played with the Devils since 2006. One as to assume there was at least a conversation about this franchise, and perhaps a good word was put in.
With the Devils, Butcher isn’t going to be under the microscope. He can find his NHL footing on a team with lowered expectations, but one that could be on the upswing again after the summer they’ve had.
So the Devils continue a productive offseason with a free-agent prize. Butcher is going to help immediately, if only because he does some things – like provide great ice vision and consistently good breakout passing – that they need.
Well, among about 500 things that they need. But bringing on an accomplished 22-year-old defenseman with some intangibles.
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