The calendar is quickly approaching August and a majority of the NHL's top free agents have already signed new deals or found new homes. But there's one marquee player who has suddenly shaken loose, and will surely draw heavy interest across the league.
That would be 22-year-old defenseman Will Butcher, who informed the Colorado Avalanche that he will hit the open market and become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15.
Butcher, a 2013 fifth-round draft pick, was named the recipient of the 2017 Hobey Baker Award, annually given to college hockey's top player, after scoring seven goals and 30 assists in 43 games during his senior campaign while helping Denver University capture its first national title since 2005. It's the second straight year NCAA's top player has elected not to sign with the club that drafted him, with Jimmy Vesey doing the same last year when he signed with the New York Rangers instead of the Nashville Predators.
So could Butcher be a real option for the Blackhawks? There's certainly a reason for both sides to be intrigued by a potential match.
With Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya no longer in the picture, the Blackhawks could use a young, NHL-ready blue liner with top-four potential and Butcher provides just that.
He's a 5-foot-10, 186-pound puck-moving defenseman with high offensive upside but also plays a solid two-way game and is responsible in his own end. He carries a left-handed shot, quarterbacked Denver's No. 1 power play unit and possesses strong leadership skills after serving as the team's captain for two years.
While he is certainly no sure thing, Butcher would be as close to pro ready as any prospect in Chicago's system and could factor into the cards as soon as this season. It also doesn't hurt that he shared the same blue line at Denver as Blackhawks prospect Blake Hillman, who drew great reviews from Joel Quenneville at prospect camp.
The good news for the cap-crunched Blackhawks is that the maximum allowable salary for an entry-level contract is $925,000, so that eliminates the possibility of getting into a bidding war with other teams. Signing and performance bonuses can still be included, but that's the least of their worries if they can land a player of Butcher's caliber.
His decision will really come down to best fit and opportunity to play and win, and the Blackhawks can offer all of the above.