Almost a year ago, the Boston Bruins were readying their best pitches when the so-called Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes saw them as a finalist for his sought-after services.
Vesey waited out the draft rights of the Nashville Predators that expired on Aug. 15, and the Bruins rolled out the red carpet for the former Harvard University standout. The Bruins obviously didn’t end up landing Vesey as he chose the New York Rangers, instead.
Don’t expect history to repeat itself when Hobey Baker winning University of Denver defenseman Will Butcher becomes a free agent next month.
The 22-year-old offensive defenseman capped off a strong four-year college career with seven goals and 37 points in 43 games for the Pioneers and has indicated that he’s not going to sign with the Colorado Avalanche as a former fifth-round pick.
There will be plenty of interest in the 5-foot-10, 186-pound Butcher as teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs are lining up for a shot to sign the talented youngster. That’s a great situation for Butcher to be in, but that doesn’t mean the Bruins need to be one of those NHL suitors.
There is an NHL need in Boston for a left-shot defenseman that Don Sweeney has been looking to fill all summer, and it’s no mystery the Bruins organization values the world of college hockey where they’ve uncovered D-men prospects like Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk over the last five years.
What the Bruins don’t need is another undersized, unproven youngster on their back end while 21-year-old Brandon Carlo enters his second full NHL season, and 20-year-old McAvoy readies for his first full pro hockey season in Boston. Instead, they really could have used a battle-tested, grizzled veteran D-man on the left side capable of being an on-ice tutor as McAvoy’s D-partner this season, and that’s what they were unsuccessfully looking for via free agency or trade earlier this summer.
That never worked out for Don Sweeney and the Black and Gold, so the expectation is that Kevan Miller is going to play on his “off” left side as a defense partner for the gifted McAvoy. It’s not a perfect solution given Miller’s limited time playing on his left side last season, but it’s better than potentially signing Butcher and rolling with two rookies together on the same pairing, or elevating the undersized Torey Krug to a top-4 pairing with McAvoy.
Beyond that practical reason, there’s also the simple fact that there’s little room at the inn for another young left shot defenseman prospect knocking the door at the NHL level. The Bruins need to get good looks at Jakob Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon in training camp, and have Robbie O’Gara and Grzelcyk pushing for more looks at the NHL level over the next year as well. This doesn’t even mention Urho Vaakanainen, who is expected to play in North America for the Bruins organization in 2018-19 after getting selected in the first-round last month.
So there is a plethora of young left shot D-men prospects already in Boston’s ranks and adding another one in Butcher shouldn’t be any kind of priority for a team already bursting with talented young players. The clear need for this team on the back end is a bigger, stronger and more well-rounded eventual replacement for the 40-year-old Zdeno Chara on the left side, rather than a 5-foot-10, 186-pound college hockey player that sounds much more in the Krug mold.
Clearly that kind of power play quarterback and offensive D-man is going to be a solid addition for any NHL team if he turns into even half the player Krug has become in Boston, but the B’s already have that guy in their lineup for the foreseeable future while coming off a career-high 51 points last season.