The loss of forward Zach Parise left a pretty big hole in the Devils top group of forwards. As Devil fans watched potential replacements like Alexander Semin and others sign elsewhere, most Devil fans resigned themselves to Lou Lamoriello's Plan B to consist of either re-signing Petr Sykora or the team elevating 2008 1st round pick Mattias Tedenby to a top forward spot.
When Bobby Butler became available earlier this month some Devil fans took notice and remembering that the Devils were interested in Butler back in 2009 when he left college, it didn't seem out of the realm of possibility that the Devils could give Butler a try. The Devils signed Butler after he was bought out of the last year of his contract by the Ottawa Senators.
"He signed a two-way (contract), so we’ll just see what develops, but he has the potential of being a top-six forward."
"It’s going to be really up to him," Lamoriello said. "He’ll be given every opportunity. He visited and spent some time here and had some other opportunities."
The question -and purpose of this post- is to see where we think Butler fits best in the top six. Since Kevin did a good job in summarizing Butler's tenure in Ottawa here, I won't focus on why he was bought out or his time in Ottawa but rather, where he fits on New Jersey.
Obviously Lamoriello thinks he can play there, but where would be best fit? To help guide us, I watched all 16 of Butler's NHL goals over the past two seasons (96 games), linked them for you to review and made my own comments and assessment on how he's scored in his NHL career. After the jump I will list all of Butler's goals, summarize how he's scored them, speculate as to whether Butler fits best on line 1A (Ilya Kovalchuk's line) or line 1B (Patrik Elias' line) and go over the pros and cons of placing Butler on either a line based on his skillset.
|1||2010-11||ES||Link||:00||Knocked down clearing attempt controlled puck, got puck up and it went past goalie (soft goal by goalie)|
|2||2010-11||PP||Link||:39||Scramble after PP Ozone faceoff, puck got in front of net, kicked back from Spezza for Butler who puts it home|
|3||2010-11||ES||Link||:20||Controlled pass from Spezza, shot high to get past goalie|
|4||2010-11||ES||Link||4:23||Ottawa on forecheck, Butler stole puck, stickhandled through traffic and shot through 5 hole|
|5||2010-11||ES||Link||:59||Offensive zone possession, backhanded pass, looks to have hit someone in front of net and in|
|6||2010-11||ES||Link||3:10||Took pass from neutral zone, D gave him space rang shot off pipe|
|7||2010-11||ES||Link||1:55||Created opportunity out of neutral zone, got behind D, took pass and scored with quick shot|
|8||2010-11||ES||Link||3:35||Good outlet pass, got behind D on breakaway and was able to beat goalie with nice moves|
|9||2010-11||ES||Link||3:07||Took pass from Spezza, outworked defender and got puck high to beat goalie|
|10||2010-11||ES||Link||1:05||Turnover in D zone, took pass from Spezza put good shot on net and followed on rebound to score|
|11||2011-12||ES||Link||3:35||3 on 2, teammate did good job driving net giving Butler space to get off shot that beat goalie stick side|
|12||2011-12||ES||Link||2:45||Took outlet pass after beating D, toedragged, good job elevating shot|
|13||2011-12||OT||Link||3:48||Slap shot from bad angle beats goaltender|
|14||2011-12||ES||Link||2:17||Controlled rebound off shot from point, outmuscled forward, shot it past goalie|
|15||2011-12||ES||Link||:41||Line change, Foligno split D, Butler wristed it past goalie|
|16||2011-12||ES||Link||2:13||Transition play, Spezza froze D, Butler slipped behind D, and tipped pass in|
(Note that the links above go to the main recap page of each game. I tried accessing the individual goal videos but they were not working when I sourced all of this information from NHL.com so to view the goals you will need to go to time listed in each video.)
After watching any of the goals linked above, I think you can agree that the right handed Butler's 16 goals (over his first 96 games) are rather impressive. They also reinforce the scouting report on him: Good shot, not overly physical, needs to play with playmakers, etc. The majority of the goals are generated by his well placed shot (he has a great ability to get height on his shots); ability to read plays in the offensive zone and get away from defenders. You will notice that a number of times I write that he 'slipped behind the defense'. He capitalizes on open ice either created through turnovers by the defense or by transition opportunities/rushes started in the neutral zone. What you don't see is a lot of goals generated via cycle or goals scored around the crease area. Simply put, when Butler scores its going to probably be a pretty goal to watch.
With New Jersey it's possible he works out as a faster version of Petr Sykora and offers the Devils a few different options/combinations in how they structure their top six.
FIrst let me state that when I look at potential line combinations for the Devils next season I start with following two items already in mind:
1. Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias will be on separate lines. There are a number of reasons for this, but primarily it's because they are the team's two most dynamic offensive players.
With that in mind, which line should Butler be on? Kovalchuk or Elias? I think a case can be made for both.
Kovalchuk: This option is the much higher risk/reward gamble. Watching how Butler was able to score, you often notice that he was able to work with a lot of space because defenses would focus so much on Jason Spezza. If there is one player in the NHL that can sure use someone to pass too when he has two or three guys bottling him up its Ilya Kovalchuk. The concern of course is how this line would perform defensively. Assuming that Zajac is the center for a line that includesKovalchuk/Butler you would place a lot of defensive responsibility on him. This is important because a line with Butler and Kovalchuk on it, likely won't have a lot of possession time as there will be a lot of 'one shot and done' offensive possessions. With that in mind, the upside could be the return of the Bobby Butler who scored 11 goals in 36 games for the Senators in 2010-11. Having Kovalchuk being able to hit another forward in space who can legitimately shoot it from beyond the crease area could result in a lot of quick strike offensive opportunities, and more importantly a lot of goals.
Elias: This is the logical option primarily because the Devils currently don't have Petr Sykora on the roster and could use a sniper on the wing for Elias. Butler will be able to capitalize on the vision of Elias to set him up with scoring opportunities and defensively he would probably be a bit better than Sykora was, just by virtue of being a faster skater. The concern here is that Elias was often matched up against other team's top lines putting a lot of newfound defensive pressure on Butler. The upside is arguably a better potential scorer and defensive player than Sykora was last year to complement Elias and in all likelihood Zubrus.
The safe route is to let Butler play with Elias. The risky play is to add him to a line with Kovalchuk (presumably moving Kovy back to his natural LW). If up to me, I would give Butler a shot on the first line with Kovalchuk. It's a risky move but if they can generate enough scoring opportunities without giving up many, it's a risk I would be willing to take.
So yes, I am advocating that a player recently bought out by the Ottawa Senators hop onto the Devils first line. Again, I think he would fit with Elias too, so what Butler certainly does is give coach Peter DeBoer some much needed flexibility when looking for the right fit in his top forward combinations.
So now it's your turn. Where do you think Butler slots in? Is he a better fit on the wing for Elias or on a line with Kovalchuk? Were you impressed by his goal scoring abilities? Thanks for reading and sound off below!