Last season’s Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher announced on August 27th that he has decided to join the New Jersey Devils. The 22-year-old defenceman from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was named the top player in college hockey for the 2016/17 campaign where he played for the University of Denver. Butcher and the Devils agreed on a two-year entry level contract which is worth $1.85 million. It was also reported that he could earn as much as $850,000 a year in bonuses if he reaches certain performance-based milestones.
There were numerous teams interested in Butcher after he turned down a contract offer from the Colorado Avalanche on August 15th. The Avalanche originally drafted him in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft’s fifth round with the 123rd pick, but the player and club couldn’t agree to terms on a deal. Butcher then became an unrestricted free agent in mid-August. Since he’s on an entry-level contract, Butcher will be making the maximum salary allowed for the next two seasons at $925,000 a season and the $850,000 yearly bonuses are also the maximum allowed for current rookie contracts.
Therefore, Butcher would have received the same pay no matter which club he signed for, but he felt the Devils were the best fit for his situation and style of play. He was also giving serious consideration to signing with the Vegas Knights or the Buffalo Sabres. Devils’ general manager Ray Shero was thrilled to land the promising young defenceman as his team is hoping to make the playoffs in the upcoming 2017/18 season. Butcher is just the seventh defenceman to capture the Hobey Baker Award and he helped his college team win the national title earlier this year.
The Devils fortunes seem to have turned around since missing the postseason last year as the club also won the draft lottery this year and chose centre Nico Hischier of Switzerland with the first-overall pick. Shero then picked up 26-year old skilful forward Marcus Johansson from the Washington Capitals just a few weeks later. The left-handed shooting Butcher is expected to step in immediately and help the Devils in their youthful rebuild. He finished last season with seven goals and 30 assists for 37 points in 43 games and finished his career at the University of Denver with 103 points on 28 goals and 75 assists in 158 contests.
Butcher is now the second consecutive Hobey Baker Award winner who chose to become a free agent after wrapping up his career in the college ranks. Forward Jimmy Vesey, who was originally drafted by Nashville, decided to turn down their contract offer last year and the club traded his rights to the Buffalo Sabres. However, the Sabres and Vesey also failed to come to terms and the former Harvard players shopped his services around before deciding to sign with the New York Rangers. Vesey then went on to a decent rookie season by scoring 16 goals and 11 assists for the Rangers in 80 games.