New Jersey Devils: Will Butcher Just Made Things Hard For Lindy Ruff

Will Butcher #8 of the New Jersey Devils: (Elsa/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports)
Will Butcher #8 of the New Jersey Devils: (Elsa/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports) /

Will Butcher has been out of the lineup all season, but after finding himself playing in the New Jersey Devils return from their COVID-19 pause, he made it hard for the head coach to keep him out of the lineup.

The New Jersey Devils returned to the ice on Tuesday night, and they picked up a big win against the New York Rangers. There was a lot to love about a 5-2 victory. Mackenzie Blackwood was able to make a couple of big saves en route to his first victory in a month. Janne Kuokkanen was able to put up three assists for his first three-point game of his NHL career. The Devils got five goals from five different goal scorers.

The scorer worth the most explanation is Will Butcher. The 26-year-old defenseman has been a healthy scratch for the first nine games of the Devils’ season. He found himself back in Tuesday’s lineup because Dmitry Kulikov, Sami Vatanen, and Ryan Murray were all unavailable to play. That left the Devils with a defense that included Butcher, Matt Tennyson, and Connor Carrick.

Will Butcher had a good night in his first game of the season.

Which Carrick and Tennyson were paired together to varied results (they were the defenseman on the ice for both goals, but they also only allowed one high-danger chance at 5v5), Butcher was playing with P.K. Subban. It’s clear Butcher still has some kinks to work through, and their advanced stats were a little less than desired, but the counting stats were there.

Butcher was on the ice for two goals scored. One of those goals he scored himself. He took a shot towards the net in the second period that went off a Rangers player and in the net. Those are the kind of goals the Devils need from their defenseman. Subban got a primary assist when he threw the puck towards the net and Yegor Sharangovich tipped it home.

Butcher probably earned himself another opportunity only because it’s unlikely that the Devils get all of Kulikov, Vatanen, and Murray back by Thursday. He deserves a second game after at least playing decently on Tuesday. He still has something to be desired when it comes to footwork, but at least he still has confidence in his shot. Scoring will only help that confidence.

Things will get interesting if Butcher improves by the time the rest of the defense is available to play. The Devils must love having this much flexibility on the blue line, but eventually that leads to a logjam. Someone on this defense is going to be upset on a nightly basis. Carrick was signed to a generous contract to be an extra, so his expectations might be low, but the rest of the defenders hope to be in the lineup on a nightly basis. Hopefully, Butcher continues to play well and keeps scoring so it becomes a much harder decision for Lindy Ruff.