After largely ignoring the blueline this offseason, the New Jersey Devils may have added a big piece to the puzzle.
Sunday morning, Denver University’s Will Butcher was still trying to narrow down his list of potential NHL employers. By the time he went to bed Sunday night, he was a member of the New Jersey Devils, spurning advances from the Buffalo Sabres, Las Vegas Golden Knights and Pittsburgh Penguins.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) August 27, 2017
Originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013, the defenseman opted to continue his college career as a Denver Pioneer. Butcher played to an elite level in 2017, winning the Hobey Baker Award, the most prestigious award a college player can receive. He played all four years of his college career in Denver, with a total of 28 goals, 75 assists, combining for a total of 103 points over his 158 games played.
He finished his amateur career with 28 goals and 75 assists for 103 points over 158 games.
During a conference call with reporters shortly after the move announced, Butcher explained that he “hit it off” with Devils head coach John Hynes, who reminded him of his coach in Denver, Will Montgomery.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) August 28, 2017
Butcher also said that he doesn’t model himself after just one player. He considers himself comparable to some of the smaller, yet powerful defensemen in the league, such as Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks, Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins and both Toby Enstrom and Sami Vatanen of the Winnipeg Jets.
As for how likely Butcher it is that Butcher will dress for the team’s season opener on Oct. 7 against the Avalanche, the answer is very likely. The Devils, who have lacked a true game-changer on defense over the last few seasons, are in no position to sit a player with Butcher’s abilities.
With captain Andy Greene and Damon Severson holding things down as the team’s top defensive coupling, Butcher will likely find himself playing with Ben Lovejoy, an accomplished Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, on the second or third pairing.
Steve Santini and John Moore are the other two defensemen expected to be part of the defensive rotation for the season opener. But Butcher’s arrival means less available ice time for a number of players.
Those slowly being pushed out of the equation, with playing times hanging in the balance, include a pair of recent acquisitions, Mirco Mueller and Dalton Prout. With time to prove themselves before the season starts, either one could find themselves as the team’s extra defenseman or playing in the AHL with the Albany Devils, depending on whether or not coach Hynes wants six-or-seven D-men dressed.
The bottom line is that Devils fans should be ecstatic that the team’s defense has finally been addressed. After an incredible offseason of offensive acquisitions, most recently Drew Stafford, the defense was left in the dust as if it weren’t an issue. Now, with the signing of Butcher, the defensive core is beginning to form.
Things are looking up for the Devils. Perhaps the 2017-18 season will not only be exciting, but full of some surprises as well. Like a playoff berth, perhaps?