College hockey’s top player is an NHL free agent after former University of Denver defenseman Will Butcher allowed a deadline to pass without signing with the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche selected Butcher in the fifth round of the 2013 draft and had until Tuesday to sign the Hobey Baker Award winner who led Denver to a national championship in April.
A person with direct knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Butcher already has had talks with the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils and NHL-expansion Vegas Golden Knights. The person said Butcher has not yet narrowed his list, and also is talking with other teams.
The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were to remain private.
The Denver Post first reported the three specific teams expressing interest in Butcher.
Butcher’s decision will come down to which team he considers the best fit rather than contract terms. Teams are restricted to signing him to a two-year contract with a maximum annual salary of $925,000.
In a statement released Wednesday by the Avalanche, the team said it made Butcher a maximum offer in April. “He wanted to test the market and that is his right and decision,” the Avalanche said.
The 22-year-old from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, capped his senior season at Denver with seven goals and a team-high 30 assists in 43 games and became just the seventh defenseman to win college hockey’s top honor. Overall, he had 28 goals and 75 assists for 103 points in 158 games with the Pioneers.
Butcher becomes the second consecutive Hobey Baker winner to pursue free agency after completing his college career.
Last summer, Harvard forward Jimmy Vesey turned down contract offers from Nashville and Buffalo before signing with the New York Rangers , for whom he had 16 goals and 27 points in 80 games. Nashville drafted Vesey and traded his rights to the Sabres once it became clear he wasn’t going to sign with the Predators.
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