Unsigned college free agency begins August 15th, and the most coveted free agent is University of Denver’s Will Butcher. The former Colorado Avalanche draft pick is coming off of an NCAA National Championship and his best statistical season, where he tallied seven goals and 30 assists (as a left handed defenseman). Butcher can be classified as a prototypical puck moving defenseman. He couples his impressive skating and agility with great vision and an accurate first pass up the ice. Butcher was also the captain of Denver last season after serving as an alternate the previous year. Butcher was rewarded not only with a championship, but also with the Hobey Baker Award for being the best collegiate player in the country. Others to win this award include Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matt Carle.
With Butcher’s excellent accolades and New Jersey’s need for defensemen, it seems like the two are a match made in heaven. The reality is every team thinks the same thing while looking at Butcher, a free high-end prospect they can get for a two-year ELC.
Would Butcher be a perfect fit in New Jersey? Definitely. Should the Devils offer him a contract? Of course. Having said that, it doesn’t seem likely Butcher would choose the Devils over other options that have been rumored like Chicago or Pittsburgh. Out of these three teams, the Devils give Butcher the fastest track to NHL ice time. This however probably isn’t enough to outweigh the allure of playing for an original six franchise or joining the Stanley Cup champions.
What fans need to remember around this time is college free agents are routinely overhyped. A Hobey Baker and solid senior year has routinely made these kinds of prospects look like future NHL stars. Jimmy Vesey’s decision took over hockey twitterverse for three days. Vesey’s a solid winger, but there was never a reason for fans to be clamoring for his services. College free agents make it to free agency for a reason- they weren’t good enough to sign until their senior year.
These aren’t former first round talents suddenly hitting the open market.
Alex Kerfoot is another example. Sure, it‘s better to have players like him, but losing the center prospect isn’t going to break the Devils. Players like Butcher and Kerfoot should be putting up big numbers in college hockey, as they have 2-3 more years of experience at that level than most of their peers.
I’m quite confident Butcher will not be a New Jersey Devil next season. This is not a good thing but shouldn’t necessarily be considered bad. It is nothing. It was never in the Devils cards to lure players like Butcher away from teams like the Blackhawks and Penguins. The Devils need to simply stay the course, keep cultivating talent through the draft, and soon enough, will make their triumphant return to the playoffs.