Before we all start panicking about Nate Schmidt’s ankle injury, let’s take a deep breath. George McPhee suggested it’ll take “the week or so” before an injury update. We can save our overreaction for when that “or so” bleeds into training camp. Plus, the Schmidt-scare gives us an opportunity to discuss the stud NCAA free agent defenseman the Golden Knights reached out to.
To our knowledge, Vegas has only pursued a few NCAA free agents during their first offseason, and Neal Pionk (signed w/ NRY) and Spencer Foo (signed w/ CGY) were the only two names seriously connected to the Golden Knights. Ultimately, both chose other NHL franchises, which makes you wonder, why?
I know that we’ve had real good coverage. We’ve targeted a very small number (of college free agents). To be honest with you, we haven’t cast a wide net. -Kelly McKrimmon, Assistant General Manager
That was Golden Knights’ Assistant GM back in early April. Foo and Pionk were targeted, and now Vegas appears to have its eyes on the new NCAA golden boy, Will Butcher.
The conversation went well. The management was well prepared and painted an impressive picture of their plan and how a player like Will would fit into that. –Brian Bartlett, Will Butcher’s agent to LVRJ
McPhee and his staff painted their picture and now it’s time to wait. Based off Bartlett’s text to the RJ’s Ben Gotz, Vegas is putting high-value on Butcher’s low-risk potential. Signing a fifth-round steal to an entry-level deal, could set up for a nice return on investment… and we all know the Golden Knights love a good RoI.
But, let’s look at it from Butcher’s side. I’m not so sure Vegas would indeed be the best fit for him after he left Colorado at the altar. Going back to Pionk’s decision to sign with NY, it came down to immediate opportunity for the UMD defenseman.
Whatever happens after training camp happens, but my goal going into training camp is to make the team. I think I can fit the Rangers’ style. I know coach [Alain] Vigneault likes to play an up-tempo game. -Neal Pionk, Rangers defenseman to NHL.com
Pionk was undoubtedly told that he would play in Madison Square Garden next season. For a college free agent, that’s tough to pass up. The Golden Knights couldn’t guarantee ice time, and definitely not playoff appearances, like the Rangers did. It may end up being a smart decision by Pionk, when you consider NY’s defensive overhaul. Butcher, may find himself in the same position. As an older prospect with big-game experience, he may want that immediate chance.
Right now, there's about a half dozen teams considered legitimate contenders on Butcher. Hasn't made any city visits yet.
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) August 17, 2017
With the current logjam of 11 defenseman, Butcher could be less-inspired to sign a deal with the Golden Knights. If he feels confident making an NHL roster this season, the entry-level contract with options will end up hurting the Golden Knights. A waiver-exempt deal with Vegas would likely mean the team would assign Butcher to play with the Chicago Wolves. There are better defensive opportunities for NHL ice time in Buffalo or New Jersey. Both franchises desperately need a defenseman who can step in right away. The Golden Knights on the other hand, don’t seem too concerned with their defensive clown car.
Now, if Vegas gets an in-person visit from Butcher and his agent, proving VGK may be willing to offer immediate playing time, then we definitely should get concerned with Schmidt’s ankle. Oops, I promised I wouldn’t overreact.
Give it a week… or so.