Butler fits in fine on Flames blueline

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:16 PM ET

CALGARY - Settling in nicely as the new guy, Chris Butler admits no one in Calgary has recognized him yet.

“I like that,” smiled the 24-year-old Flames defenceman.

Well, he’d better not get used to it.

Four months after becoming the answer to the question “Who’d they trade Reggie for again?”, Butler is about to try filling Robyn Regehr’s sizeable Tacks.

Not only will the former Buffalo Sabre do so by starting the season playing alongside Regehr’s old defensive partner, Jay Bouwmeester, he’ll also be counted on to play large chunks of each game as No. 28 did here for 11 years.

It’s the perfect stage for the country music junkie from the Show Me State (Missouri) to do just that.

“It’s a pretty good fit so far,” Butler said of Calgary.

“I always wanted to come to the Calgary Stampede. My girlfriend rides horses, so I’ve been around that stuff. She’s at Oklahoma State in vet school — she’s the smarter one of the two of us.”

Although significantly smaller and less physical, the self-deprecating newbie represents an upgrade offensively on a blueline Brent Sutter hopes will jump up more often this year.

Sutter continues to use Bouwmeester up front on the odd powerplay to get him thinking more offensively. The coach must have been thrilled, then, to see Butler in tight on the Islanders net late Tuesday as part of a nifty give-and-go with Roman Horak that ended with Butler sliding the puck just past the post and wide on a great scoring chance he created.

“I like to think of myself as a two-way guy who is keen on jumping up on the rush and helping offensively,” said Butler.

“I take pride in playing strong defensively.”

Just two seasons ago, the fourth-round pick out of the University of Denver emerged as a playmaker in Buffalo, racking up 21 points in 59 games despite a high ankle sprain that disrupted his season.

Last year, after starting out as the Sabres’ seventh defenceman, he played a more defensive role, teaming up with towering Tyler Myers down the stretch to shut down the opposition’s top line.

Here, he’ll be called upon to do a little of everything, which suits him just fine. And as long as he remains alongside Big Bouw, it won’t take long for the American rearguard to make a name for himself and garner plenty of attention on and off the ice.

“A guy that played hard and played the right way and contributed at both ends,” said the 6-foot-2, 205 pounder when asked how he’d like to be known by Flames faithful by season’s end.

“Initially, I was surprised, but once I had a chance to talk to (GM) Jay (Feaster) and Brent, I realized it would be a good fit. For me, it’s a chance to start new and show what type of player I can be. I couldn’t ask for a better partner. He moves quickly, efficiently and is a tremendous skater — I’ve always admired how he plays.”

Funny, as Sutter and several other Flames executives have said the same thing about Butler, including one who went as far as to say he thought Butler was already a better player than Regehr – a bold, if not irresponsible, statement given Regehr’s tenure here.

“That’s a tremendous compliment,” said Butler, who switched from No. 28 early in camp to No. 44 out of respect for Regehr.

“I have a ton of respect for Reggie. I’ve never met him, but from how the guys talk about him … He was here for, what, 11 years? Guys don’t last that long for one team without a reason.”

Asked pointedly how the team would be able to replace Regehr, Sutter was curt.

“Robyn is a good defenceman, but don’t underrate where Butler is at,” said Sutter.

“Just because he was in the other conference, you guys didn’t see him much. He was playing with Myers against the others teams’ top line from Christmas on, so he’s a pretty mobile guy who can also jump up and create offence. Robyn’s moved on, and we’ve moved on as well.”

Indeed, it sounds like the new kid’s gonna be alright.


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