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Avalanche in danger of losing defense prospect Butcher

Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher was drafted by the Avalanche but will not sign with them before Aug. 15, when he's eligible to test the open market.

There is an interesting wait going on in Colorado right now. Well, interesting for us, at least. For the Avalanche, it’s a little more high-wire. Hobey Baker-winning defenseman Will Butcher is going to wait until after Aug. 15 before he signs with an NHL franchise. Now, it could be with the Avs – the team that drafted him – or it could be with someone else. As Brian Bartlett, Butcher’s agent, told me, there are some logical reasons why Butcher didn’t sign with Colorado as soon as his college career was done.

Butcher, a smart and skilled undersized blueliner, just captained Denver to an NCAA championship. Had the Pioneers been knocked out early in the tournament, he would have had the chance to play some games with the Avalanche – as Tyson Jost, the formidable North Dakota freshman ended up doing. By the time Butcher’s championship run was finished, however, the Avalanche had just one game left on the schedule. Not only that, but the franchise’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio was languishing in the basement of the Pacific Division, so there would be no playoff run to join up with there.

Jumping into pro action right away is one reason for a college player to sign right after their season is finished and clearly, Butcher didn’t really have that option.

The Avs drafted Butcher 123rd overall in 2013, but since his junior campaign, he has performed much closer to a first-round talent. He’s offensively-inclined, but not one-dimensional. He led the NCHC in scoring by a defenseman last year with 37 points in 43 games and was a staple on one of the conference’s best power plays. Could Colorado have pushed harder last season to sign Butcher earlier, when he was coming off a scorching junior season that saw him nearly double his sophomore offensive totals? Perhaps, but the Avs were also going through a front-office shakeup at the time that included the resignation of coach Patrick Roy. Plus, Butcher had the chance to go back and captain a potent NCAA team with designs on a national championship. The fact he ended up winning the title and the Hobey Baker as college hockey’s most outstanding player speaks to the wisdom of the defenseman in sticking around – his senior season literally could not have gone any better.

Communication between the organization and Butcher has always been positive, so I can’t say the Avs were pushing him away.

But as we speak, the Avs have jus three NHL defensemen under contract – Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Mark Barberio. We can assume they will lock up RFA blueliner Nikita Zadorov, too. But where does the lineup go from there? Youngsters; that’s the most likely path. Chris Bigras, Andrei Mironov, Duncan Siemens? Those are your top options, but none are sure things at this point. Now, I’m not saying Butcher is going to put up Zach Werenski-like numbers right away, but his potential is clear and unmuddied.

Colorado will not be the only team pitching to Butcher come mid-August; his talents are very well-suited to where the game is today. The fact that the Avs are getting away from veteran-laden lineups helps (gone are the days of Francois Beauchemin and Fedor Tyutin on the blueline), but the franchise must also make their case here. An organization that has been criticized for its drafting in the past has clearly hit on one of its late-rounders and watched him bloom into something impressive.

GM Joe Sakic and his crew must pitch Butcher on a future in Denver that will see him as part of a growing young core with potential. If Sakic cannot do that, another GM in the league is going to have a very pleasant August.



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