NEWARK, N.J. – Lou Lamoriello has had a habit of finding players that other teams have given up on and getting them to produce for the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils president and general manger netted productive seasons from castoffs Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier in winning the Eastern Conference last season, and Lamoriello is hoping to do the same with Bobby Butler this season.
Butler had the final year of his contract bought by the Ottawa Senators after a disappointing sophomore season. Lamoriello signed him to a two-way contract in August, about a month before the NHL began a four-month lockout.
“He just told me there was an opportunity and that I would have to prove myself,” Butler said Tuesday after the Devils held their third practice since the new collective bargaining agreement was finalized. “That's something I knew I would have to do coming off last year. I'm just glad he gave me the opportunity to do that.”
Butler doesn't say much about his final season in Ottawa other than he suffered a groin injury early and never got going under new coach Paul MacLean. The bounces that were there in 2010-11 and helped him score 10 goals in 36 games, just weren't there last season. The result was six goals in 56 games, not the type of production the Senators expected after signing the former University of New Hampshire forward to a two-year, one-way contract.
With young talent in the organization, Ottawa elected to buy out Butler for $400,000 rather than keep him on the roster for this season with $1.2 million price tag.
Where the Senators gave up, Lamoriello jumped in. He did the same thing last year in claiming Carter off waivers from the Florida Panthers and signing Bernier as a free agent. They became key parts of his fourth line with Carter scoring five goals in the post-season (nine overall) and Bernier adding two in the Stanley Cup run and three overall.
Butler, who scored 61 goals in college, has the capability of scoring more and softening the blow of losing captain Zach Parise to Minnesota in free agency. He had a team-high 15 goals and eight assists in 33 games with Albany of the AHL during the lockout this season.
“He's a good shooter,” Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said of Butler. “He shoots in stride. You can tell he is a guy who scores a lot of goals because he gets the puck at the net all the time. If it's a one-timer, he gets it off. He gets through defencemen and gets the shot off. He's got that niche to get the puck on net and he had some success at the (AHL) level. He did pretty well with Ottawa. Now it's a new start for him and hopefully, he'll stick around and get a second chance.”
Butler had only three goals in his first 16 games with Albany but then got going when he started playing with centre Steve Zalewski and left wing Joe Whitney. Five of his goals came on the power play, with his sweet spot being down low just to the left of the net.
“I got a few bounces and the puck just started going in,” Butler said. “Then you kind of go from there and there were more and more bounces. You start to play well and good things happen.”
Not only did Butler play better with his confidence back, he also realized what was missing: His shot.
“You can't score, if you don't throw it toward the net,” said Butler, who played on the Devils No. 1 power play line Tuesday. “I didn't shoot enough last year and that was something I want to do as much as I can this year.”
“He's a good player,” said Travis Zajac, who centred the line with Butler and veteran Mathieu Darche on the wings. “He's got a great shot and he is quick getting it off and getting in positions to get it off. He works hard, he battles hard. I think playing with the right guys, he is going to get an opportunity to score goals.”
The Devils did something interesting with Butler. They gave him the No. 9 for training camp, the one that team captain Zach Parise wore for seven seasons before signing with Minnesota.
“It's the number I got,” Butler said. “I'll try to make the best of it.”
NOTES: Stephen Gionta needed stitches near his lip after being cut by a stick in practice on Tuesday. … The Devils plan to scrimmage Wednesday and they are bringing their AHL team to play. Coach Peter DeBoer did not know whether the NHL players would skate against the minor leaguers or they sides would be split up. … RW Ilya Kovalchuk is due to rejoin the Devils Wednesday but DeBoer was not sure whether he will play in the scrimmage. He'll talk to Kovalchuk Wednesday. … C Jacob Josefson (lower body injury) practiced with the team for the first time since the CBA was finalized. He did not take part in the scrimmage part, the second half of practice as a precaution.