Butcher Jersey bound

The summer saga that was the Will Butcher sweepstakes finally came to a close Sunday with the 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner signing a two-year entry-level contract with the New Jersey.

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Originally selected by Colorado in the fifth round of the 2013 draft (123rd overall), Butcher recently capped his four-year career at the University of Denver with 37 points (7+30) in 43 games as the Pioneers marched the 2017 NCAA Men's Division I Hockey Championship.

Going to the Devils gives Butcher an immediate opportunity to earn NHL paychecks. He is already among their top six defensemen on paper, and if he wasn't, a quick pipeline review shows how the New Jersey blueline cupboard is severely lacking.

The highest pick the Devils have used on a defensemen in the last three drafts was 81st overall. They haven't taken a defender in the first round since 2011, and that one - Adam Larsson - was traded a year ago for Taylor Hall.

Jason Botterill's Sabres staff courted Butcher quite heavily, but were unable to get a deal consummated.

Butcher's agent, Brian Bartlett, stated that immediate NHL gratification wasn't necessarily the primary motivation, so it leaves you wondering what the other determining factors were. What else was it about the Devils that made Butcher comfortable?

Young free agents assess situations in different manners, but a common thread among most cases I've been privy to is that they prefer teams provide a detailed breakdown of their game and demonstrate a keen understanding of where the player is at in their development. They appreciate when prospective employers point out their strengths and weaknesses and provide a specific plan for how they can help turn them into a better player given the system they'd be expected to play.

You can talk about where the team is heading, refer to the succession plan as veteran contracts come off the books, sell the organization with a tour of the training facilities, and say you want the player.

You can also show how you want them by articulating how they fit and what you're going to do with them in a well-thought out manner. Butcher is lauded for his leadership, so you can bet that he knows how making each individual better makes the team better, and helps all involved achieve the ultimate goal of winning a big, shiny trophy.

I'm certain the Sabres did all of that.

A common thought among Sabres fans was that a recruiting process involving American hockey legend and Hall of Famer Phil Housley could play a big part in swaying Butcher's decision making.

After all, Housley's track record with Nashville's fleet of defenders speaks for itself. Putting his defensive expertise to work in August with a plan for Butcher was a great opportunity to prove that he was just as responsible for the Predators success as Peter Laviolette, David Poile and Paul Fenton were.

You can bet the Sabres played this card, too.

The Sabres have taken great strides addressing needs throughout the entire organization all the way down to the final roster spot with the Amerks. Butcher was likely going to be part of that Rochester group, and by all accounts would've been okay with that.

So why not the Sabres?

Is Buffalo not an alluring professional destination for a recent college graduate?

Is Jack Eichel not the recruiting tool that many in Buffalo claim him to be?

Or did the Sabres simply lose out to the big city charm as Ray Shero sold Butcher over dinner 20 minutes away in Manhattan?

I mean, Jimmy Vesey, Cal Petersen and now Butcher have passed on Buffalo in favor of the bright lights.

Either way, Buffalo fans will get to see Butcher firsthand when the Sabres play the Devils Friday, Sept. 8 in their first game of the Prospects Challenge.

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