Top 25 under 25, no. 11: Bobby Butler
His place on this list might be a surprise considering the year he's had, but his pedigree should tell us not to give up on Butler too quickly.
Butler signed a two-year deal with the Senators in March of 2010, after his career at the University of New Hampshire had come to an end. Butler's final year there had gotten him noticed: his 29 goals had him second among all NCAA Division I players. To those goals, he added 24 assists, totaling 53 points in just 39 games. That would be good enough to earn him a nomination for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top collegiate player each year, though he would eventually lose out to Blake Geoffrion, grandson of Bernie "Boom Boom" Geffrion--one of the innovators of the slapshot.
That season made him a hot commodity. An Ottawa team desperate for offensive talent was the perfect match--he'd get a chance to make an impact right away. Though the team essentially paid him $450,000 a game in 2009-10 (Butler would only play two games after leaving school), the 2010-11 season is where Butler made a name for himself among Sens fans.
That season, Butler played 83 regular-season games. In that span, he totaled 54 points--32 goals and 22 assists. Of course, those numbers were split across AHL and NHL games. The breakdown looks like this:
Not too shabby. Butler would also pick up the AHL All-Star Game MVP after recording a goal and three assists in the game. Despite some early struggles, he displayed some very good chemistry with Jason Spezza, towards the end of the season, frequently finding himself in the right spot for the center's no-look passes. Butler possessed a shot that was quick, accurate, and deceptive, which made fans very excited about his future.
The Ottawa Senators, of course, missed the playoffs that season, which meant that Butler was able to return to Binghamton to aid in that team's Calder Cup run. He was an integral part of the B-Sens' ultimate success, recording 17 points (13G, 4A) in 23 games. It's important to note all this happened in what was essentially his rookie season. He had the look of a sniper--something the Senators desperately needed.
Unfortunately, Butler has not avoided the dreaded sophomore slump this season, falling far, far below the expectations fans had set given his outstanding rookie campaign. He's recorded just 16 points (6G, 10A) in 56 games while frequently playing on the fourth line when he wasn't a healthy scratch.
Things started badly when Butler landed himself in new head coach Paul MacLean's doghouse in the preseason. Despite saying the right things about not taking anything for granted, his seemingly lackadaisical attitude towards practice--he was rumored to have been laughing during a drill explanation--apparently drew MacLean's ire. Things have been downhill since then. According to MacLean, Butler can't seem to do anything right: when he's scoring, it's his play without the puck that needs work. When he's playing well without the puck, it's that he's not scoring.
So how did he land so high on this list? It's simple--there aren't many players in the Senators' system with the scoring ability of Butler. He's shown flashes despite this lost season, notching a 2-goal game against Calgary, and ripping off a four-game points streak in early February when he was reunited with Spezza, scoring one goal and five assists in that span. Ottawa went 3-0-1 during that streak.
With Butler, there's no reason to question his talent. He's demonstrated it at every level he's played. What happens in the future is totally up to him. If he is willing to put in the work, he will be a quality NHL scorer. If he doesn't, he'll wind up in the larger category of players who had the talent to play in the NHL but just couldn't put it all together. With the prospects moving up the team's pipeline rather quickly, it will be quite interesting to see how he responds to the coming pressure of this offseason.