On Friday night, the top player in college hockey was announced as Denver defenseman Will Butcher. Butcher edged out Northeastern winger Zach Aston-Reese and Union College center Mike Vecchione, the other Hat Trick finalists, for the Hobey Baker Award, the highest honor in NCAA hockey. Butcher is the first defenseman to win the award since Boston University’s Matt Gilroy in 2009.
Butcher had an incredible season for the University of Denver Pioneers, and he’s not done yet. Denver, the top seed in the country, is set to take on Minnesota-Duluth for the NCAA National Championship tomorrow night, a reward that Butcher would likely covet even more than the Hobey Baker. However, for now he can relish in the spotlight of being names the top player in college hockey. Butcher scored seven goals and added 30 assists in 42 games this season, good enough for second in scoring among defensemen, and his +27 rating ranked among the top ten in all skaters. Butcher was also named the top offensive defenseman in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and is also a stout defender in his own end.
Unlike Aston-Reese (7 points in 7 games for the AHL’s Wilke-Barre/Scranton Penguins) and Vecchione (debuted for the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday), Butcher won’t be seeing any NHL action this season. A fifth-round pick of none other than the NHL’s worst team, the Colorado Avalanche, in 2013, Butcher has the option of signing with the Avs after his season ends tomorrow night, but by then Colorado will have just a Sunday matinee remaining in the season. While Colorado certainly hopes that the nation’s best player and a college senior would still sign with the team soon regardless – they could definitely use a top young defenseman – that may not be the case. It is already April and Denver’s success has eliminated any chance that Butcher can make his pro debut this season. He could easily instead choose to hold out until August and test free agency for the best opportunity to both play and win. Colorado has not been very good at the latter, but time will only tell what the next step is for the Hobey Baker winner. His focus right now is on adding another trophy to his collection tomorrow night.