By John Wawrow, AP hockey writer
The New Jersey Devils continued stockpiling young talent this offseason by landing college hockey’s top player, Will Butcher.
The University of Denver defenseman agreed to a two-year, $1.85 million contract with New Jersey on Sunday after spending much of the past two weeks meeting with nearly a dozen NHL teams.
Butcher became a free agent by turning down an opportunity to sign with the Colorado Avalanche before a deadline passed on Aug. 15. The Avalanche selected Butcher in the fifth round of the 2013 draft.
Butcher received the maximum entry-level salary allowed under NHL rules. A person with direct knowledge of the contract details told The Associated Press that Baker can also make an additional $850,000 in annual bonuses, which is also the maximum for rookie deals.
The person spoke the AP on the condition of anonymity because the Devils did not reveal that.
In also considering teams such as Buffalo and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, Butcher’s decision came down to fit rather than contract terms because rookie deals are capped.
“This continues to represent what we want to do as a team: bring in talented individuals, invest in their talent and develop them as we progress,” general manager Ray Shero said.
Aside from becoming just the seventh defenseman to win the Hobey Baker Award, the 22-year-old also led Denver to win a national championship in April.
He joins a Devils team that is rebuilding though youth. New Jersey won the draft lottery and selected Swiss-born center Nico Hischier with the No. 1 pick in late June. A few weeks later, the Devils acquired 26-year-old play-making forward Marcus Johannson in a trade with Washington.
Butcher is from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and finished with seven goals and a team-high 30 assists in 43 games last season. Overall, he had 28 goals and 75 assists for 103 points in 158 games with the Pioneers.
Butcher became 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.