Devils general manager Ray Shero made signing Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher a priority this summer. He knew the University of Denver product would make a difference in the Devils power play, which has not been good in recent years. He pulled all the stops to get his man.
From watching Butcher play so far in his first four games, it’s easy to understand why Shero wanted him badly. He knows how to be a playmaker, and it has showed so far in the Devils’ much-improved offense.
He had his sixth assist of the season, setting up Taylor Hall’s power play goal Friday night in the Devils’ 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at the Prudential Center.
To the Devils fans, the University of Denver product has been a revelation in their team’s surprising 3-1 start since they have been more focused on the Devils No. 1 pick Nico Hisichier. To Shero and Butcher, it was to be expected.
The Devils loved Butcher for his offensive instincts and vision on the ice. He worked on that aspect of the game in college, which made him a highly touted prospect. The Devils weren’t the only team that wanted him. The Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights pursued him, too.
In a way, it was surprising he picked the Devils of all teams. It’s rare a big-ticket player signs with the Devils. He either signs with the Rangers, Penguins or any big-market team. For him to sign with the Devils, it made their offseason a success, especially after they lost out on Kevin Shattenkirk to the Rangers.
Butcher’s signing showed that anyone would be willing to play for the Devils if ownership and general manager are persistent and aggressive in addressing their targets. This is where Devils owners Joshua Harris and David Blitzer deserve credit along with Shero in doing all they can to get their guy.
It wasn’t like that under then-Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, who wanted the players to come to him rather than vice versa in wanting to play for the Devils. Not that it was a bad thing because they were a successful franchise back then. Now is a different story. The Devils have missed the playoffs the last five years, and they need to show fans they are moving to a right direction, so they have to be aggressive in getting players.
Was it a risk to sign Butcher? Sure. Signing anyone or drafting anyone is always a risk, but that doesn’t mean a team should be scared to sign that player with potential if the general manager believes in him. Having Shero and Devils coach John Hynes believe in him certainly gave him confidence heading to training camp, and he has flourished since.
Butcher has a knack of choreographing a play. He knows their instincts and movements to be in a position to score. Think of a NBA point guard setting up picks for his teammates to score. That’s what the Devils rookie is.
Here’s a good example of Butcher’s playmaking skill: In his first game of his NHL career, he passed the puck to Kyle Palmieri, who passed it back to him and then throw a shot at Avalanche goaltender Jonathan Bernier that Adam Henrique finished it to score.
Another came last night when Butcher had the puck and flipped it to Palmieri, who gave it to Hall to score the Devils’ first goal of the game in the second period, cutting the Capitals lead to 2-1. It was the only highlight of the night for the Devils.
Butcher is going to score as he continues to learn the game. Right now, he is doing the smart thing by letting the game come to him and showing creativity rather than doing too much. It shows the maturity of a young player right there.
What Devils head coach John Hynes has to like about him is that he does not take any gamble for him to set up his shot. It’s about setting others up, not him. It’s the unselfish play that Hynes want from his players to play his up-tempo offense.
Butcher’s defense has been superb, too. He has done a good job of forcing his counterparts to turn the puck over.
As he matures, he will take on the role of being a leader whether it’s getting his teammates ready to play or mixing it up with an opposing player.
First impression is always important whether a player wants to admit it or not. Butcher wanted to show he is the real deal from the first game, and so far so good.
Add Butcher to one of few good moves Shero has done as the Devils general manager.