Leafs among teams interested in NCAA free agent Will Butcher

At this point in the summer it might seem strange that the Leafs could be targeting yet another left-handed defenceman to add to their existing group, but since they moved on from Alexey Marchenko yesterday, they have given their roster a little breathing room.

According to reports from the Detroit News, they’re okay with potentially using said room on NCAA product and Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher.

Butcher is a blue-liner who’s spent the last four seasons with the University of Denver, with his most recent season having him captaining the team. After today his rights, which are currently held by the Avalanche, will expire, and he’ll be free to hit the open market tomorrow morning.

Like the Jimmy Vesey “sweepstakes” that took last year, the hype around Butcher is growing ahead of his decision. But is it over the top? He definitely is an interesting prospect, and has put up some real nice numbers the last two seasons in the college ranks, nearly hitting a point per game in each of the last couple years. He’s also suited up for the U.S.A. in two world junior tournaments.

 2012-13  USNTDP Juniors  USHL 26 3 10 13
 U.S. National U18 Team  USDP 67 11 26 37
 2013-14  Univ. of Denver  NCAA 38 8 8 16
 USA U20  WJC-20 5 2 3 5
 2014-15  Univ. of Denver  NCAA 38 4 14 18
 USA U2  WJC-20 5 0 1 1
 2015-16  Univ. of Denver  NCAA 39 9 23 32
 2016-17  Univ. of Denver  NCAA 43 7 30 37

Numbers via EliteProspects

Still, for Toronto, this is going to be difficult to make work. The Leafs can’t really guarantee Butcher a spot on the team going into this season, despite their relatively weak defence group. Players like Borgman, Rosen, Dermott, and others will push for those bottom-pairing positions, and Butcher will at best be among that group heading into camp.

But we know the Leafs’ scouting and player development networks are sprawling, so it isn’t a surprise they’re at least weighing the option of adding Butcher.

In the end they could strike out for the reasons listed above, mainly the guaranteed roster spot issue, but that’s probably a good sign for the team overall. In the meantime, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on how this unfolds, especially with the minor tinkering the Leafs started yesterday.