The Colorado Avalanche are about to officially lose the rights of the type of player the Colorado Avalanche could really use right about now: a blue-chip defence prospect.
Will Butcher is the reigning Hobey Baker Award champion, an excellent mover of pucks, the captain of an NCAA championship team, and a 22-year-old who can sign to any one of the 31 NHL teams he chooses once the clock strikes midnight.
That Butcher must join the league at an entry-level price means the phone of his agent, Brian Bartlett, will be buzzing. Such was the case of star college graduates like Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes, and Justin Schultz in recent Augusts past.
A steadily improving standout for the University of Denver, Butcher was selected by the Avalanche back in fifth round of the 2013 draft but never signed a deal with the team that finished in last place in 2016-17.
According to the Denver Post, Butcher wasn’t offered a deal from the Avs until April, after he was an NCAA champion.
Unlike the bulk of NHL rookies, he now has the power to choose his own adventure.
Butcher put up an impressive 37 points over 43 contests as a slick-passing senior and, in late July, Bartlett announced that his client would be exploring all options.
Butcher is far from the only NCAA prospect who will turn UFA this week — centres Alex Kerfoot (Harvard) and Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) should also field some interest — but he’s certainly the best bet to make an impact on the NHL club that lands him.
The defenceman, who’s been praised for his two-way game and leadership, is eligible for a two-year contract worth $925,000 per season, plus performance bonuses.
Considering Butcher grew up in Sun Prairie, Wis., it’s no surprise that the nearby Chicago Blackhawks are reaching out, especially after their blue line took a hit with the departures of Nicklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk.
Among Butcher’s many suitors, we’d expect inquiries from the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild, Buffalo Sabres, and New Jersey Devils as well.
The Toronto Maple Leafs freed up a roster spot by waiving KHL-bound defenceman Alexy Marchenko Monday and are known for leaving no stone unturned.
The Post reported Tuesday that Butcher plans to speak with the Devils, Sabres and Vegas Golden Knights as early as Wednesday. The Knights currently have 11 defencemen under NHL contract and will need to trade or demote some members of their blue-line before the season opens.
Bartlett is publicly saying the player is open to all offers and will not rule out a return to Colorado.
“He’s in a unique position, so he has the opportunity to take advantage of it,” Bartlett told BSN Denver last month. “Those things don’t come around too often.”