With the NHL constantly adapting, general managers are finding themselves in frequent need of cheap talent. Historically, the best way to keep this type of talent available has been to build through the draft. Teams are slowly beginning to realize however, that they can trade away top draft picks and pluck very capable, seasoned talent from the NCAA for free. After skating up to four years in the collegiate world, a growing flock of undrafted gems finds multiple NHL suitors and a quick entrance to the highest level of hockey in North America. One such example is former University of New Hampshire co-captain, Bobby Butler, signed to a two-year contract by the Ottawa Senators 13 months ago.
The 6-foot, 181-pound Butler grew up near Boston and spent four seasons in the Jr. Bruins organization, scoring at a point-per-game pace in his final year. As the NHL draft came and passed, Butler moved on to college life. The winger consistently improved, scoring point totals of 12, 26, 30, ad 53 respectively in his four years. In his sophomore and junior years, he improved alongside a number two overall draft choice in James van Riemsdyk, and by Bobby’s senior year, he was named co-captain of the Wildcats. Butler would run with the added responsibility, amassing 53 points in 39 games, which earned him eight awards in the NCAA Hockey East and New England books. Bobby would even go on to be named as one of the top finalists for the Hobey Baker award. Blake Geoffrion would take home the hardware, but Butler had caught the eyes of a number of NHL scouts.
Just two days after UNH was eliminated from the NCAA playoffs, Butler chose to sign with the Ottawa Senators. Most collegiate players would find themselves in the American league after signing, but Butler reported straight to Ottawa, skating in two regular season games to the end the year. Said Butler on his choice to sign with Ottawa after six teams had shown interest, “It was probably the best opportunity for me to play right now. They said they really liked me, and they could see me helping them in the future.” For a guy who had never been drafted, the dream had come true.
Butler was hopeful in the upcoming training camp of earning a full time spot with Ottawa, but quickly found himself reporting to Binghamton. As the season progressed, he would be called up five times, but by the middle of February, Butler was up for good. In the middle of the trips back and forth from Binghamton to Ottawa, Bobby scored a goal and three assists in the AHL All-Star Game, capturing MVP honors. For those who’ve been following my articles, another 2010 Hobey Baker-finalist, Rhett Rakhshani, also registered a goal and three assists in a big win for the East.
Although Ottawa’s season had taken a turn for the worse, Butler showcased some phenomenal skill down the stretch, scoring seven points in his last four games and 21 points over the 38 NHL games he participated in. Butler is a shifty forward with good hands and an eye for the net. As long as he continues to shoot, Butler should have no trouble becoming a 25-30 goal scorer in this league, with the potential for more.
Despite the strong play of Butler most recently, expectations should be tempered short term. Unless Butler is placed directly on Jason Spezza’s line, expect him to follow a closer development curve to that of Joe Pavelski, though his ceiling is lower. Butler will likely skate full time in Ottawa next season, scoring close to 15 goals and 25 assists, followed by something near a 20-25 goal, 25-30 assist campaign.
From a fantasy standpoint, it’s much more realistic that Butler will score 50 points in 2012-13 and steadily improve over the two seasons following that, rather than becoming a 60 point wonder next year and improving on that number. With that being said, if you can trade Butler for some worthwhile assets now, there’s a good chance that the future Butler owner in your league will sour on him at some point over the next two seasons. When that happens, you will be able to re-acquire Butler for a bargain. If you choose instead to hang on to him until his breakout, you may find yourself being the one selling him low.