Friday, April 17, 2009

DU Alum Butler Playing Like NHL Veteran

(above) DU Alum Chris Butler was the biggest surprise for the Buffalo Sabres this season

From: Buffalo News
John Vogl

It was clear to anyone watching that Chris Butler was staying in Buffalo. Andrew Peters saw it. So in a gesture of kindness and teammate kinship, Peters plucked the Sabres rookie from his lonely days in a hotel and invited Butler to live with him and his wife.

It didn't take long for Butler to go from house guest to family member. Butler is a smart, thoughtful guy whose etiquette floored his hosts. Whenever Erin Peters would get up from the kitchen table or prepare to leave a room, Butler would rise from his seat in a show of chivalry and respect.

The respect immediately flowed both ways.

"He's as mature as they get for a 22-year-old," Andrew Peters said. "He's a professional in every sense of the word. He treated my wife with the most respect, and that went a long way. That's what I mean by gentleman. He's a really, really good kid. He's like a young brother."

The housing arrangement worked, but it's unlikely to continue next season. Butler may as well start shopping for his own place because he's not going anywhere. The defenseman figures to be a Sabres regular for years.

In a season littered with disappointments, Butler was the Sabres' biggest success story. He was called up in December when injuries thinned the blue line. He played too well to go back to Portland. He finished with 47 games and was second on the Sabres with a plus-11 rating.

"Chris Butler probably surprised all of us with his play," coach Lindy Ruff said. "He put together basically a solid half-season for us. That is a bright spot."

The Sabres sent Butler to Portland this week so he can take part in the American Hockey League playoffs. It's a chance to get a feel for postseason intensity since he is a first-year pro.

But he certainly doesn't play or act like a first-year guy. Peters mentioned Butler's maturity, and it is evident on the ice and in the dressing room. His chats are full of insight, whether he's talking about the overall negativity of mainstream media or what it's like to be on the ice with Teppo Numminen and Craig Rivet.

"If you look at my defense partners from this year, Craig Rivet just played his 800th game, Teppo has played over 1,000 games and is a potential Hall of Famer," Butler said. "The amount of things that I learned from them, the little things from just being around them, made me that much of a better player."

The even better news for Sabres fans is Butler feels he's nowhere close to his potential. He had two goals and four assists, numbers he's planning to boost.

"As you adjust and as you grow more and more confident and comfortable at this level, I think I can start to evolve into the kind of player that I want to be," Butler said. "I'm not even close to where I think I can be at this level. I think I can be more of a two-way defenseman. I think I can do a better job of picking spots and getting up in the rush, do a better job of blocking shots. The goal this summer is to get a lot stronger so I can handle guys down low a lot better.

"I don't know if it's my mind-set that has to change, but I think some games I kept things too simple. I would kind of make a pass and let other guys do the work, whereas I feel I can get up in the rush, I can make plays."

The Sabres are eager to see it. Ruff was impressed by Butler's ability to shake off bad games — he had back-to-back minus showings just once — and sees the University of Denver product growing into a top-pair defenseman.

"His mental makeup is very good for the game, so that overall was a good year for him," Ruff said. "He had a game here or there that he didn't like, but he was able to bounce back and put some games together that were very good for us, too. He's got the mobility for it. He's got the head for it, and he's got good work ethic."

He's also got the drive. He wants to ingrain himself with the Blue and Gold, not just be a guest in someone's home.

"I want to be here for all 82 games next year and make more of a difference instead of just kind of being a role player per se," Butler said. "I kind of look at it as what can I do better and how can I make us a more successful team next year?"

6 comments:

dggoddard said...

Wow. What a great article.

puck swami said...

Chris makes you proud to be a Pioneer.

msbdu said...

The DU tradition continues....

vizoroo said...

Great article on Chris Butler. Ditto to puck swami's comment.

Anonymous said...

i wish we could start recruiting from russia

Twister said...

That is a great article. I hope Butler has a long and productive career. Maturity, character, respect...sounds like a player from Gwoz's program.