NCAA star Will Butcher turns down Avalanche for NHL free agency

We have this summer’s Jimmy Vesey, ladies and gentlemen.

For the second straight off-season, the winner of the Hobey Baker Award — handed annually to NCAA’s most valuable hockey player — has declined to sign with the club that drafted him in order to explore NHL free agency.

University of Denver defenceman Will Butcher has opted not to sign with the Colorado Avalanche, who drafted him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft (123rd overall), and will instead listen to offers from the entire league.

Butcher, 22, becomes an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15, at which point he can sign a three-year, entry-level contract with any of the league’s 31 teams.

The money offered from all bidders should be equal; the differences will be roster opportunity, chances to win and geographical preference.

Butcher declined Colorado’s formal offer presented to him in the spring, according to BSN. The Avalanche did not make their prospect an offer after his third NCAA season.

“We appreciate what Colorado has done, and we’re not ruling out the Avalanche as a potential destination. But we just feel there will be other opportunities that should be explored too,” Brian Bartlett, Butcher’s agent, told BSN Denver.

Butcher is a five-foot-10, 186-pound, two-way defenceman from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

He’s a left shot who spent two years with the U.S. National Development Team before enrolling at Denver. Butcher increased his assist and point totals in each of his four NCAA campaigns, finishing 2016-17 with seven goals, 30 assists, and a plus-27 rating in just 43 games.

Not only did Butcher win the Hobey Baker this past season, he also collected NCHC Player of the Year and NCHC Offensive Defenceman of the Year honours and captained Denver to its first NCAA championship in 12 years.

Last summer, several teams made exhaustive pitches to Harvard graduate Vesey before the college star inked a two-year pact with the New York Rangers and put up a respectable 16 goals in his rookie year.

Because of Butcher’s entry-level price tag and elite passing ability, the defenceman should prepare for plenty of interest.

Butler believes he sees the ice well and is strong in the transition game, once describing himself as “almost like that fourth forward.”

As a team close to his roots and in need of young D-men, the Chicago Blackhawks look like one of many possible fits. But Butcher and his agent will listen to anyone interested.

“If Jim Benning calls on the 15th, we would be very interested to see what he has to say.” Bartlett told Rick Dhaliwal of Vancouver’s News 1130. “We are looking for opportunity and there is certainly opportunity in Vancouver, we will see how they stack up.

“He’s in a unique position, so he has the opportunity to take advantage of it,” Bartlett said. “Those things don’t come around too often.”