Bobby Butler knows exactly what Stephane Da Costa is going through. A year ago, Butler was one of the most highly sought-after NCAA players on the free agent market. After finishing his collegiate career at the University of New Hampshire, Butler had eight or nine NHL teams attempting to sign him.
This year, Da Costa – a standout forward at Merrimack College – is reportedly the target of as many as 20 teams.
“He’s having a busy couple of days, I’m sure,” says Butler of Da Costa’s situation. “They come and they talk you and then your agent deals with them and tries to figure out what’s best. So I think he’s going through a lot right now.”
Butler, who spent time skating with Da Costa during the summer, believes he is ready to make the jump to the NHL if that’s whatt he chooses to do. Da Costa’s Merrimack squad was eliminated from the NCAA playoffs on the weekend. He is eligible to play at school for two more years, but the consensus is that he will opt into professional hockey next season.
“He’s a skilled guy, he’s strong on his skates and he can see the ice a lot better than a lot of guys I’ve played against,” says Butler.
The Senators are one of the teams targeting Da Costa and Butler believes that Ottawa has a legitimate chance to sign the talented forward. One of the Senators main selling points is that Da Costa would be allowed to play with the NHL team this season. It’s a promise they made to Butler a year ago – and he played two games with big club before the playoffs started.
“They just came at me with the best deal and the best opportunity to play right away. Whether I played two games and that was it for the rest of my career, I had a chance. And that’s an opportunity that I took and I didn’t want to pass it up,” said Butler.
The Senators also took a similar approach when they signed Jesse Winchester out of Colgate University in the spring of 2008. Even though the Senators were headed to the playoffs, the club indicated that Winchester would have a chance to play a regular season game with them if he signed right away.
“It was pretty cool, knowing that I would have a chance,” said Winchester. “The fact that they were confident enough in me, it showed that they believed in me. It was a great honour.”
Winchester said the process of picking the right NHL team was similar to choosing the right school as a student. He had several phone conversations with general manager Bryan Murray, while assistant general manager Tim Murray and several team scouts were frequently attending Winchester’s games during his senior season.
Winchester believes the Senators have been successful in landing NCAA players in the past because of their direct communication with the young players. It’s likely the same approach that Murray and director of player personnel Pierre Dorion are taking with Da Costa this week.
“I felt that Ottawa was the most direct and honest with me. They told me what they expected from me, more so than some of the other teams that had expressed interest,” explains Winchester.
“In our discussions, they told me the kind of player that I was. To me, their description of me was the most like the one I would give of myself. They were friendly with me, they treated me well.”