Finding Butcher's fit

The internet was abuzz Saturday when a picture surfaced of 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher walking through Denver International Airport Friday toting a Buffalo Sabres bag.

This is likely just confirmation that Butcher was indeed in Buffalo this week as he shops his services as an unrestricted free agent, yet the picture does spark some intrigue as it relates to the left-shot defender's potential interest in becoming a member of the Buffalo Sabres organization.

After all, juxtaposing a college free agent with the Sabres logo a mere weeks after losing Cal Petersen to a similar CBA clause is enough to get Sabres fans excited.

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.

Butcher expressed interest in leaving school after his third year, but Patrick Roy was said to be cool on the prospects of a sub-six-foot defender, and thus he did not receive a contract offer from the Avalanche.

Roy resigned from the Colorado staff last August, but when Joe Sakic tried to reverse course and show interest in Butcher, it was too late. By then Butcher knew he was going back to school and would be able to decide his own place of work after.

So if Butcher were to choose Buffalo over the handful of premium suitors, where exactly would he fit into the system?

Butcher is best described as a smart, two-way defender with power play value. He's not the biggest guy, nor is he the quickest, but he smoothly and confidently operates with good gap control, a smart stick and a really nice level of intelligence that sees him jump into spots and put his offensive instincts to work. He's a simple positional defender that can bring some extra flavor when the play flows into the offensive zone.

Buffalo's left-handed defensive corps is pretty loaded for next season with the Sabres set to begin camp with nine lefties under an NHL contract.

Marco Scandella
Nathan Beaulieu
Jake McCabe
Viktor Antipin
Josh Gorges
Brendan Guhle
Justin Faulk
Devante Stephens
Brycen Martin

With right-handers Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian taking up two of the blueline spots, it's just really hard seeing room for Butcher in Buffalo, and that fits the plan perfectly as a player with his talent and leadership skills would be best served starting off in Rochester. He could ease his way into the professional ranks in a larger role with guaranteed power-play minutes against a slower pace. When he's ready for the NHL, be it by merit or an injury fill, he'll get the call. This is the ideal way for a player to make the transition out of college.

The way the Sabres have insulated the Amerks at all three positions, being in Rochester is an easy sell job for Butcher.

As far as the blueline goes, he and Guhle as rookie left-handers would ideally get paired with a veteran RHD presence like Taylor Fedun, Casey Nelson or Matt Tennyson. Faulk, Andrew MacWilliam (LHD) and Barry Goers (RHD) would round out an impressive fleet of AHL rearguards, with Stephens, Martin and Anthony Florentino getting their reps in Cincinnati of the ECHL.

OK, so what about his fit into the rankings scheme?

Prospect-wise, Butcher would enter the system as the second-ranked left-handed defender behind Brendan Guhle. Guhle's size and skating ability are the more savory physical tools, and the one-on-one defensive sense gives him the clear nod. Butcher is more developed. Guhle has a good chance at achieving his high ceiling as a top-four.

When viewing the blueline overall, I'd likely slot Butcher as the third-ranked defender, putting him basically on par with Will Borgen's value as a prospect, with Borgen getting the slight edge in my eyes. Butcher brings more goal scoring ability. Borgen brings more of everything else with his core competency as a semi-rugged, mobile defender.

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