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New Jersey nabs Butcher

#ButcherWatch has come to an end, as the University of Denver defenseman signs a two-year deal with the Devils.

After a long deliberation, collegiate free agent defenseman Will Butcher has elected to sign with the New Jersey Devils. The two sides agreed to a two-year entry-level contract Sunday evening, which made Butcher the latest NCAA draft pick to forgo signing his entry-level deal with the team that drafted him.

It has long been rumored that the Colorado Avalanche (the team that drafted Butcher 123rd overall in 2013), informed Butcher that they would not be signing him to his entry level deal at the end of the 2015-16’ season. Since then Butcher went on to win the Hobey Baker award in his senior season at the University of Denver, which led to a spike in league-wide interest in the soon-to-be free agent. Colorado apparently reached out to Butcher this past season, but the 22-year-old opted not to sign with them, citing their disinterest from the season prior as the driving force behind that decision.

As team captain at Denver, Butcher posted a career high 37 points in 43 games last season. While undersized at 5’10” and 186lbs, he was able to use his puck carrying ability and elusiveness to excel at the collegiate level. The challenge now will be for Butcher to translate his style of play to the professional ranks. Not an easy feat, and far from a sure thing.

Butcher’s decision to sign with New Jersey is unsurprising. Of the four teams rumored to be in the running, the Devils allowed him the quickest opportunity to see NHL ice time this season. Butcher immediately becomes their best prospect on the blueline.

Sabres fan’s excitement peaked last week when a picture surfaced of Butcher carrying a Sabres duffle bag through the Denver airport. Despite rampant speculation caused by the photo, teams often give these types of items to visiting free agents. If anything, all the picture did was confirm that he was in Buffalo for a visit. None of that matters now as #ButcherWatch has come to an end.

Playing primarily on the left side, Butcher would have been hard pressed to find NHL action in his first couple of years with the Sabres. Buffalo currently boasts a glut of young, capable left handed defensemen in Marco Scandella, Jake McCabe, Nathan Beaulieu, and top defensive prospect, Brendan Guhle.

Time will tell if Will Butcher joins the ranks of Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, and Jimmy Vesey as Hobey Baker winners who have found success in the NHL. The last defenseman to win the Hobey Baker was Matt Gilroy in 2005. After bouncing around the league between New York, Tampa Bay, Ottawa and Florida over four seasons, Gilroy now plays for Spartak Moskow in the KHL.

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