Of the 44 players that participated in the weeklong USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., Avalanche prospect Will Butcher was one of the most impressive to take the ice.
The defenseman from Madison, Wis., finished the Aug. 3-10 camp with two goals and four assists in five exhibition games against Sweden, Finland and Canada. His six points led the Americans in scoring and was tied for the second most at the camp.
Butcher's best game came right before roster cuts while with the USA Blue Team (The United States fielded two teams for the first three days of the camp). He picked up points in all three of the Blue Team's goals in the Aug. 5 game against Sweden, as he scored twice and also picked up an assist.
"I felt good towards the second half of the game, it was clicking for me," Butcher said to NHL.com after the contest. "I could see the plays being made in front of me. I think that was kind of how it went today. Hopefully it keeps going that way for the rest of camp -- if I'm lucky to stay."
The Avalanche's fifth round selection in this year's draft made his case to stay as he survived roster cuts the next day and helped lead USA's top defensive pairing for the rest of the camp. He was paired with Washington Capitals prospect Connor Carrick for the first four games and started Saturday's camp finale against Canada with Carolina Hurricanes prospect Brett Pesce.
Butcher, who will be playing at the University of Denver this season, helped set up the first goal of the contest against Canada with a diagonal pass to Riley Barber, who scored on a one-time shot late in the first period. The Americans scored again 47 seconds later and rolled to a 5-1 victory.
The 18-year-old is already familiar with representing his country on the international stage as he helped USA win the gold medal at the 2012 Under-18 World Championship and the silver medal at the 2013 tournament. He has also been a member of Under-17 and Under-18 squads of the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the last two seasons.
While he has had success with the Under-17 and Under 18 teams, Butcher said a big part to the Under-20 team's success at the world juniors would be the camaraderie with the players off the ice.
"I think one of the things right off the bat, especially in coming into a camp like this, is team chemistry," he said. "Just getting to know the guys and becoming good friends off the ice is a huge component to that. When we are just making jokes and having fun with each other, it’s a big step to becoming a team that wins on the ice."
The final United States roster for the Dec. 26-Jan. 5 world championship won't be announced until after a December pre-tournament camp in Minnesota, but Butcher's strong offensive play and defensive responsibilities this past week are a good start in his attempt to make the national team.
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