Today is finally the day that graduating NCAA draft picks shed their former teams and become unrestricted free agents, and Will Butcher has already been linked to a half dozen teams. One team he won’t be talking to? Tampa Bay, who according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times are “not among the early suitors” for the reigning Hobey Baker award winner.
Butcher is expected to sign within the next week, and all along has said he’s open to starting the year in the AHL if it meant coming aboard with a franchise with recent success or at least trending towards a championship. Whether that holds true in the face of an opening day NHL role in places like New Jersey and Buffalo is still to be seen.
- Dominic Toninato is another name to keep an eye on, after he went unsigned by the Toronto Maple Leafs because of their contract squeeze. Matt Wellens of the Duluth News Tribune reports that the Maple Leafs did in fact offer Toninato an entry-level contract last spring after his junior season, but found themselves without any room this summer. Toninato could be one of the first names off the board, since he was given permission to speak with other teams early. The 6’2″ forward isn’t the usual undersized offering from the college ranks, and has considerable potential in a bottom-six role.
- Among other names to watch from the college ranks is Connor Clifton, who didn’t sign with the Arizona Coyotes after four years at Quinnipiac. The in-your-face defender took a slight step backwards this year on a worse team, but could still provide some depth on the blueline for a club around the league. He’s still just 22, relatively young for a college free agent, and plays about as physical as you can for a 5’11” 175-lbs player.