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Will Butcher’s power play prowess has made him the latest Devils rookie to impress

The New Jersey defenseman made franchise history with three assists in his debut.

Colorado Avalanche v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As the New Jersey Devils opened their season on Saturday, many were looking forward to rookie Nico Hischier’s first regular season showing. The No. 1 overall pick from this past summer had an incredible preseason and is one of the favorites to win this season’s Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.

Instead, fellow first-year player Will Butcher had himself a debut to remember in the Devils’ 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Butcher, one of a few blue line additions for New Jersey in the offseason, posted three assists for a franchise record as the first player to tally three points in their rookie debut.

Butcher, no less, did so against the club that drafted him in 2013.

The Devils landed Butcher this offseason after the defenseman spurned the Avalanche once the team took too long to sign the coveted college star. Butcher was a major player in Denver’s recent Frozen Four victory, and his senior year earned him college hockey’s top honor, the Hobey Baker Award.

On a thin Devils’ blue line, Butcher was an immediate upgrade. Yet, as rookies go on the team this season, Butcher was expected to take a back seat to Hischier. That may as well be the case in the future, but Butcher was the star in the Devils’ season opener.

His impact was felt almost immediately for the Devils, as Butcher’s point shot on the power play was deflected into the net off of Adam Henrique five minutes into the game.

Butcher then added two secondary assists in the second period to cap off a first game to remember in a Devils sweater.

While three assists for a rookie defenseman in his first NHL game are quite impressive, Butcher’s usage by Devils’ head coach John Hynes shows a power play expert in the making. Butcher was often the quarterback of the Devils power play in their opener, where all three of his assists came with the man advantage. In 12:45 of ice time, the least amount by any Devils defenseman in the game, Butcher spent more than three minutes of that time on the power play.

Butcher was clearly sheltered by Hynes in the big important defensive moments, as rookies often are when taking their first steps in the NHL. However, Butcher did just fine from a puck-possession standpoint, as he had the Devils’ third-best Corsi-For percentage at 57.14 at even strength according to

In all situations? Butcher’s CF% soared to 70 to lead all Devils defensemen despite the limited minutes of ice time.

First games like that aren’t often the standard for rookies, but the signs are there for Butcher to be a key player on the Devils roster in the season to come. Butcher is assured to make mistakes as young players often do, and he’ll likely be sheltered in minutes and situational zone starts down the line because of it.

Even so, Butcher’s first game with the Devils was a stark reminder of what he can bring to the team even as a 22-year-old. While Hischier will likely get much of the press and praise as the season rolls along, Butcher is off to a fantastic start providing support on the Devils’ blue line.