Devils Nab Top Collegiate Player, Defenseman Will Butcher

A year ago, the New York Rangers plucked the prize free agent collegian on the market — Jimmy Vesey.

This time around Ray Shero‘s New Jersey Devils did likewise, signing prime college free agent, puck-moving defenseman Will Butcher.

For Shero this is a major coup since the Hobey Baker Award-winner had been pursued — just like Vesey — by several NHL clubs.

At age 22, the Sun Prairie, Wisconsin native has the maturity and savvy to step right on to the Garden State varsity or, at the very least open the 2017-18 campaign on New Jersey’s American Hockey League farm club in Binghamton.

Captain of Denver’s NCAA titlists this past season, Butcher signed a two-year entry-level contract with an annual salary of $925,000.

Assuming he completes a commendable training camp, the University of Denver grad could win a spot in the top six group of blue liners.

Captain Andy Greene tops the list followed by Damon Severson. The second unit features Ben Lovejoy and John Moore while Butcher could wind up on the final pairing with Steven Santini.

Fortuitously for Shero, Butcher nixed signing with Colorado although the Avalanche had plucked him in the fifth round of the 2013 Entry Draft.

To the Devils credit, the organization captured his imagination while Will rejected bids from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres.

Shero demonstrated that where the was a Will there was a way to get him to Newark.

This much is certain; if there’s one area that has been the Devils weak underbelly since last season, it has been defense.

While offense was bolstered last year with the addition of Taylor Hall, the blue line corps was weakened with the loss of Adam Larsson to Edmonton.

One could get exhausted just reeling off Butcher’s credits.

During his final collegiate season, he ranked second in points among defensemen with seven goals and 30 assists for 37 points in 43 games.

A year earlier he was honored with several awards including NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team, NCHC Best Offensive Defenseman, NCHC First All-Star Team, NCHC Player of the Year, USA Hockey’s College Player of the Year.

Want more? How about NCAA (West) First Team All-American.

Couple of side notes: the Hobey Baker Award is named in honor of the Princeton University star who many regard as the greatest American (amateur) player of all-time.

Also, Butcher skated for three seasons with Travis Zajac‘s kid brother, Nolan, at Denver.

If Butcher enjoys as much success in his freshman NHL season as Vesey did with the Rangers last semester, Shero will be laughing all the way to the G.M.’s meetings!