2017 Hobey Baker Award winner and defenseman Will Butcher will be a free agent on August 15 if he does not sign with the Colorado Avalanche. The Chicago Blackhawks have already expressed interest in pursuing Butcher, and he has a mutual interest in playing in Chicago.
Drafted in the fifth round,123rd overall, by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013, defenseman Will Butcher helped his collegiate team, Denver University, to a NCAA championship last year while serving as its captain. Could his next stop be with the Chicago Blackhawks?
I think Butcher could be a Blackhawk because of the state of the ‘Hawks’ blue line, his style of play and being a cost-effective option for Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman. With the state of the blue line still uncertain, Butcher could fight for an opening-night roster spot.
Current options for the Blackhawks
When it comes to the Blackhawks defense, we know that three spots are already spoken for: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and newcomer Connor Murphy. With three spots open, there are some interesting options in Michal Kempny, Jan Rutta and Gustav Forsling.
Kempny should get a good look based on his time with the ‘Hawks last season. He played in 50 games, contributing two goals, potting eight points and posting solid possession numbers. That being said, he never found a real consistent role with coach Joel Quenneville, so there is no guarantee that he sees significant time.
Rutta and Forsling are next on the depth chart. Rutta is an interesting signing out of the Czech Republic. He is a right-handed, offensive-minded defenseman who could bring some scoring, but he may need time to adjust to the North American style of play. Rutta is also waiver exempt, meaning if he does not work out he can be reassigned to Rockford worry free.
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Forsling is another young defenseman on the depth chart. Bringing youth and speed Forsling has a high ceiling and is another offensive defenseman; he had a strong showing last year but needed a little bit more time to develop.
After Rutta and Forsling, the options start to dwindle to Ville Pokka, who has yet to see time in the NHL, and aging Michal Rozsival. This gives Butcher a great opportunity to grab a roster spot.
Why Butcher is a good fit
Butcher is considered a two-way defender with promising offensive upside. Having played a puck-possession style at Denver University it’s easy to see why he would be a natural fit in the Blackhawks system. With seven goals and 37 points in 43 games, Butcher had his most productive collegiate season last year. He had steadily increased production every year in college.
As Fellow Blackhawk Up writer Aaron Goldschmidt notes:
"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."
That style of collegiate play should help Butcher adapt easily into the ‘Hawks’ system. Having good vision and the ability to move the puck could help the Blackhawks in their transition play. When looking at last season’s first-round playoff series against Nashville, the ‘Hawks had some glaring issues in the middle of the ice. Adding a defenseman who can see the ice and make good, hard passes would add some life to the offensive game.
Lastly, Butcher going on an entry-level contract is a good, cheap option for Bowman to add some depth to the organization. Bowman has done a great job in finding other avenues to fill out organizational depth. He has used international signings like Artemi Panarin, Kempny and Rutta, with the first of those seeing great success in Chicago.
Last year, the Blackhawks took a run at the previous Hobey Baker Award winner, Jimmy Vesey. Vesey ended up signing with the New York Rangers. His deal with New York ended up being for $925,000, the max for an entry-level contract, with maximum performance based bonuses up to $2.85 million, per capfriendly.com. Adding Butcher would be low-risk signing at $925,000 plus bonuses.
With his skill set and being an inexpensive option for the Blackhawks, Butcher could be a great addition. He can learn from the current veteran defense core, and in time be a great piece in the ‘Hawks’ puzzle. In this league, with injuries and some other questionable options, you can never have enough quality defensemen.