The University of Denver’s Will Butcher, who won this year’s Hobey Baker Award, could be a free agent on August 15th if he choses to not sign with the Colorado Avalanche. The swift puck-moving defenseman could be a great pickup for the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks are all too familiar with college players choosing to not sign with the team that drafted them. Forward Kevin Hayes from Boston College was drafted by the Blackhawks 24th overall in 2010, but decided to test free agency after his senior season. He has since signed with the New York Rangers.
This time, the Blackhawks could be on the other side of this.
Will Butcher is a defenseman for the University of Denver who was taken in the 5th round of the 2013 Draft by the Colorado Avalanche. Some of you may have seen Butcher at the Frozen Four this year in Chicago when Denver won the championship.
In an article from the Denver Post in April after the Frozen Four, Butcher had told GM Joe Sakic and the Avalanche that he is going to take his time deciding whether to sign with the Avs after Sakic offered him a contract. Butcher had this to say about his meeting with Sakic after the Frozen Four:
"“He came in and gave me his whole spiel about changes in the program, going younger and everything like that. I told him I’d get back in touch with him,” Butcher said. “I’m weighing all my options right now. I want to take my time. I don’t have anything to rush into right now. I’m not going to play anywhere right now. So I might as well take my time.” – Will Butcher"
The article also revealed that the Avalanche weren’t planning to offer Butcher a contract during his junior year which could be impacting his decision to sign now.
Butcher is coming off his best season at DU compiling 7 goals and 30 assists with a +/- of 27. He was captain of the Denver Pioneers and of the 2015 Team USA Juniors club, along with current Blackhawk John Hayden. In every season at DU, Butcher has increased his productivity and seems to be ready for the pro level.
At 5’10 186lbs, Butcher isn’t intimidating, but he has a high offensive upside. His work on the power-play with forwards Troy Terry, Henrik Bogstrom, and Dylan Gambrell helped Denver win a lot of close games during his senior season. Denver was consistently fighting for the #1 overall seed in college hockey all year and held it towards the end of the season.
Why the Blackhawks need Butcher
Because the Blackhawks are constantly struggling with the salary cap, they need to use other ways to find contributing players at a low cost. GM Stan Bowman brilliantly has been using the draft, overseas leagues, and NCAA free agents to fill that void.
This past season we saw a lot of players make the big league because of their cost-effective entry-level contracts. Artemi Panarin and Michal Kempny were brought over from overseas leagues and have played significant minutes for the Hawks. And lastly, the Blackhawks are always in the mix for successful college players, especially at the end of the year. The Blackhawks signed 2012 Hobey Baker winner Drew LeBlanc from St. Cloud State, but unfortunately he didn’t work out at the NHL level.
I personally have had the privilege of watching Will Butcher because I have season tickets to the Pioneers. What I can tell you is that he is a fearless, scrappy defenseman who is excellent at clearing his own zone. His confidence and composure in his own end give a lot of reason why he was captain of the Pioneers.
Head coach of the Pioneers Jim Montgomery plays a style very similar to the Blackhawks. The team was high-energy, quick passing, and strike-often which earned them a successful regular season and NCAA championship.
I can easily see Butcher making the Blackhawks and being a reliable 5th or 6th defenseman for now. Depending on how he adjusts to the speed of the NHL, Butcher could earn himself top four minutes.
There is no question there will be a lot of teams bidding for Butcher’s services come August, but the opportunity to play with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at the United Center, the same place where Butcher won his National Title, has to be appealing.