As Tuesday turns into Wednesday on the East Coast, 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher will become an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team. According to Mike Chambers of the Denver Post, the Buffalo Sabres are one of the teams expected to make a run at the coveted defenseman.
Butcher, 22, was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. According to Chambers, the Wisconsin native is expected to visit the Sabres, New Jersey Devils, and Vegas Golden Knights. Butcher will very likely get calls from other teams as the clock ticks past midnight.
During his four year career with the University of Denver, Butcher saw his numbers steadily increase, finishing with 103 points in 158 games. As a senior, Butcher helped lead the Pioneers to the programs eighth National Championship in April. Butcher can bypass signing with the Avalanche because of a rule in the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows a player to become a UFA four years after being drafted.
Don't be surprised if the Sabres seriously pursue Butcher. Since taking over, new GM Jason Botterill has done a lot to give the blue line a makeover. Despite the changes, Botterill has said multiple times that he's never going to be done making or exploring roster moves.
Butcher is coming off an outstanding season and has become a prospect a lot of teams would surely love to add. He's a smooth skating defender who can contribute offensively, while still providing responsible play at his own end of the ice.
Is he a slam dunk, can't miss prospect? Probably not, but he's a player who could certainly develop into a top-four defenseman in the National Hockey League down the road. His 5'10" frame might not be ideal NHL size but something tells me that won't be a concern for Sabres head coach Phil Housley, who also happens to be 5'10".
He turned out alright.
We'll likely learn more about Butcher's intentions as the week goes on. It won't be a devastating blow to the Sabres if he signs with another team but the more prospects the merrier, right?