Well, the Devils defense just got a little bit better.
The team announced today that they have agreed to terms with University of Denver standout defenseman Will Butcher on a two year, entry-level contract worth an annual salary of $925,000 according to the team’s website.
The 22-year-old native of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin captained the Pioneers to the 2017 NCAA national championship, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey in the process. The Devils’ press release also states that he was “nominated for the award after the 2015-16 season” as well. That season he finished the year third amongst defensemen in scoring in the nation with nine goals and 23 assists.
This past season, he was second in scoring amongst defensemen with seven goals and 30 assists. The highly touted prospect was also named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team, was named the NCHC’s Best Offensive Defenseman, was named to the NCHC First All-Star Team, was named the NCHC Player of the Year, USA Hockey’s College Player of the Year and was named NCAA West First Team All-American.
In addition to all of that, he also won a silver medal at the 2013 IIHF under-18 World Championship representing the US and gold at the 2012 IIHF under-18 World Championship.
The press release also states that the 5-foot, 10-inch, 190-pound blueliner spent 2011 to 2013 with the US National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan and that he played alongside Travis Zajac’s brother Nolan at Denver.
Butcher was taken in the fifth round (123rd overall) by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2013 draft and wanted to sign with the Avs, leaving college early.
When the Avalanche objected, feeling that he needed more time to develop in college, he finished his four years at Denver and then refused to sign with his NHL club, remembering that they would not let him turn pro early.
With that, he became a free agent on August 15 and the Devils won the bidding war. Butcher essentially comes to the Devils as a free asset and replaces Alexander Kerfoot… who signed with Colorado a few days ago.
While we will still have to see how his skills translate from the college game to the NHL level, it is important to remember the shape that the Devils defense is in right now. There is actually a good chance that he could make the team right out of training camp. But at the same time, he might need some seasoning in Binghamton to adjust to the pro game.
Time will tell on that one, but for once, the Devils were in on one of the highly touted free agent signings and were able to get the fish reeled in. Which should be enough to raise the hopes of New Jersey fans just a little bit.
Kudos to Ray Shero for that alone.