It’s Will Butcher.
The former Hobey Baker award winner has come a long way. For fans unfamiliar with Butcher, he has not played in an NHL game since 2021-22 with the Buffalo Sabers. The Wild traded prospect Maxim Cajkovic for Butcher, who’s played in the AHL and the ECHL all season. Cajkovic was the prospect the Wild got in addition to Pat Maroon and has been productive in the minors.
The Colorado Avalanche took Butcher in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, and Pittsburgh signed Butcher to a one-year, $775,000 contract this past offseason to play in the AHL. But the Wisconsin native was one of the top up-and-coming offensive defensemen in the NHL six years ago.
As a rookie in the 2017-18 season, Butcher put up 44 points in 81 games for the New Jersey Devils after not signing his entry-level contract with the Avalanche. But Butcher’s production has declined since then, with only .30 points per game in the season after his rookie year.
Guerin’s senior advisor, former Devils general manager Ray Shero, signed Butcher after four years at the University of Denver. Shero signed Butcher to a three-year deal after Butcher’s breakout freshman season and subsequent sophomore season. That contract ended with Butcher being dealt to the Buffalo Sabers for future considerations in the last year of the deal.
John Hynes coached Butcher in 2017-18. “I kind of hit it off with coach Hynes,” Butcher said, explaining why he chose to sign with New Jersey out of college. “I think he’s a sound hockey mind, a sound coach. It’s a great fit with how I want to play.”
Butcher thrived during Taylor Hall’s 93-point MVP season with the Devils. Butcher was the defenseman on New Jersey’s power play, a top-ten unit in the league, scoring 21.43%. As the quarterback of that unit, Butcher scored 23 of his 44 points on the power play that year.
Even in his best season, Butcher struggled defensively. Butcher ranked fourth on the Devils with 2.32 in goals against/60 that year. At 5’10”, Butcher has always been more offensively-focused. But he believes his skill set is better suited to being a dynamic defenseman, given his size.
“I might not be the fastest guy or the biggest guy out there,” Butcher said in 2017, highlighting the two most frequent criticisms of his game, “but I like to pride myself in thinking the game fast. I use my brain to be fast. Try to anticipate plays. Use my hockey smarts to be a step quicker than other players.”
Can Butcher replace Spurgeon? No, he cannot.
Butcher isn’t the player Spurgeon is defensively, and the Wild don’t expect that from him. Butcher provides depth for an injury-riddled Wild roster. Don’t expect Butcher to be in the top six. If Minnesota calls Butcher up, he likely won’t see power play time or get significant minutes.
Butcher should report to the Iowa Wild and is available for call-up whenever his former coach needs him in the lineup. Can Butcher’s former coach get the best out of him again?
Time to find out.
All stats and data via HockeyDB, Evolving Hockey, Covers.com, and CapFriendly unless otherwise noted.
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