New Jersey Devils fans are familiar with college players testing free agency. Harvard University forward, and Devils draft pick, Alexander Kerfoot seems destined to do it on August 15th as, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Kerfoot wants to play for New Jersey. But there is another college player they could take a run at, the University of Denver’s defenseman Will Butcher.
Butcher won the Hobey Baker award in 2017 as the nation’s top collegiate player. He led Denver to the 2017 NCAA championship where they beat the University of Minnesota Duluth 3-2. Now, the talented defenseman is set to become a free agent. There will be a multitude of teams vying for the 22-year-old’s signature and expect New Jersey to be one of them.
The Hockey Writers’ Melissa Burgess named the Devils as a potential landing spot for Butcher and it makes a lot of sense. So let’s see why this deal would benefit both sides.
Successful Collegiate Career
Butcher played four seasons at Denver and got better each year. He recorded 103 points in 158 games. His most successful campaign was his senior year, during which he was named captain and had 37 points in 43 games.
Clearly, Butcher is a difference-maker. The Devils need more of those on their blue line. It is unclear whether his game will translate to the NHL but it is worth finding out. With Butcher’s supposed interest in the Pittsburgh Penguins, people may wonder why he would choose the Devils over their division rival, especially after the Pens just won back-to-back Stanley Cups. However, there are a lot of reasons for the Hobey Baker winner to choose New Jersey. The Devils can offer a wide range of incentives that not many teams can match.
Immediate Playing Time
The biggest incentive the Devils can provide is immediate playing time. The current defensemen on the left side are Andy Greene, John Moore, Mirco Mueller and Michael Kapla. Greene is 34 years old and showed signs of decline last year, Moore has some defensive deficiencies, and Mueller and Kapla are unproven.
With a clear opportunity on the left side, Butcher will likely receive the most minutes on the Devils’ defense. He would have the opportunity to play in all situations and become a key member of the team. Some suitors may be better right now but none can offer as much potential playing time.
Butcher would be yet another young addition to the defense by Ray Shero. Mueller, Kapla and Steven Santini were all brought in during the Shero era and are 22 as well. The three of them will be looking to solidify starting spots on the team and will lead to healthy competition on the blue line while adding solid depth options for the future. Butcher could join the fray and help quicken the rebuild of the Devils’ back-end.
Devils on the Rise
Another incentive to choose the Devils is the opportunity to join a team on the rise. Shero has stockpiled draft picks since arriving in 2015 and has used them to acquire and draft a lot of good players. There is now a young core that includes, Nico Hischier, Mike McLeod, Pavel Zacha, Marcus Johansson, Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.
The defense does not have quite as many names in that core but Damon Severson is a big part of it with Yegor Rykov, Reilly Walsh, Steven Santini and Mirco Mueller as potential add-ons. Butcher can be another piece of the puzzle and be part of a potentially great team for years to come.
Joining a team that has undergone a massive rebuild may seem daunting but the rewards could great. Look at what the Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks have accomplished after years of painful rebuilding. Next up, the Devils. With an impressive prospect pool in place, New Jersey is close to becoming a contender once again.
Bucher is a promising young defenseman that will draw interest from a lot of teams and the Devils should be one of them. Their defense needs work and he would join a young defensive unit loaded with potential as a core player.
Joining the Devils would allow him to get the most playing time and opportunities to succeed. Bottom line, this deal makes a lot of sense for both sides. It is up to Shero to see if he agrees but I would not be surprised to see Butcher in a Devils’ uniform at the start of the season.