We interupt this series on the past season to make a note on the present. Denver Pioneers defenseman Will Butcher, who was drafted by the Coloroado Avalanche in 2013 (123rd-overall,) is set to become a free agent at 12:01 a.m. if the Avalanche can't sign him, which has about a 99.9% chance of happening right now.
The 5'10 190 lb. right-handed shot from Sun Prarie, WI just finished his senior season on the NCAA National Men's Champion Denver Pioneers, and according to his Denver bio finished his senior season second in the nation in scoring by a defenseman (43 games-7g, 30a) and tied for third in plus/minus (+27.) In four seasons at Denver Butcher played 158 games had 103 points (28+75) and finished +49.
Butcher is set to hit free agency and the Buffalo Sabres are amongst many teams interested in signing him.
Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News, wrote today that the Detroit Red Wings are interested in the 2017 Hobey Baker winner as are "two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, Chicago and Minnesota (both close to home for the Wisconsin native) [while] Buffalo, Toronto and New Jersey have been linked to Butcher, and in most cases, can offer immediate playing time."
That's a pretty tough list of teams for the Sabres to go up against for Butcher's services, and as for the "immediate playing time" portion of that quote, unless Buffalo moves a d-man like Zach Bogosian or Josh Gorges, Butcher will be in Rochester getting acclimated to the pro game. At least to start the season. In addition to those two d-men, as of now the Sabres have d-anchor Rasmus Ristolainen, two acquisitions in Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella as well as free agent Russian signee Victor Antipin plus Jake McCabe. Justin Falk was a Grade-A call-up from Rochester last season and Taylor Fedun, who recently signed a two-year extension with the club, did yeoman's work in his 27 games as a call-up last season.
New Sabres GM Jason Botterill and new head coach Phil Housley have their work cut out for recruiting Butcher. They're up against two powerhouses in Pittsburgh and Chicago, a steady Minnesota Wild club and a fast-riser in the Toronto Maple Leafs coached by one of the best in the business. New Jersey shouldn't be dismissed either as they're being built by Penguins' Stanley Cup architect, Ray Shero, and just drafted a No. 1 center in Nico Hishier.
The Sabres shouldn't be taken lightly either. They have a core group that includes a franchise center in Jack Eichel, a top two-way center in Ryan O'Reilly and they just hired a coach in Housley that coached the most feared defense in last year's Stanley Cup playoffs. Botterill himself is no slouch as he was a part of helping to build Pittsburgh's 2009, 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup champion teams.
Butcher was a fifth round pick in 2013 due to his smaller size for a defenseman, although he proved throughout his college career that he can handle bigger bodies in the defensive zone. He's never been afraid to lay the body on anyone and because of his strength, balance and the way he leverages his body, Butcher is extremely effective.
In addition to his strong two-way game he also has those intangibles like leadership which aren't so much a primary selling point as they are an augment to his hockey abilities.
Word is that he and his agent have said that they're looking for "the best organizational fit," according to Ryan Lambert of The Hockey News, which would include seasoning in the AHL, if necessary. Lambert calls Butcher "an NHL'er" and "the only reason teams shouldn’t be interested in a 22-year-old with a great pedigree is if they’re pushing up against the 50-contract limit."
The Sabres are presently at 43 contracts according to CapFriendly.