School's out for Butler

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Just before heading off to the NHL's high-rent district, the Senators hired a Butler.

It's unlikely University of New Hampshire scoring star Bobby Butler will suit up in Tuesday's game against the league-leading Capitals, but GM Bryan Murray is anxious to see him perform at this level and hinted the 22-year-old right winger could trigger his two-season entry-level deal by playing against Carolina Thursday at Scotiabank Place.

Butler, a 6-foot, 185-lb., native of Marlborough, Mass., was a Hobey Baker Award finalist who led the NCAA in scoring (with 29 goals in 39 games) and finished third among Hockey East point-collectors with 53. A number of other NHL teams were reportedly interested in him, but the Senators -- who lost out to the Minnesota Wild in attempts to land University of Massachusetts star Casey Wellman earlier this month -- apparently pushed the right buttons.

"I went to see him last week with (scouts) Lewis Mongelluzzo, Pierre Dorion and (assistant GM) Tim Murray and got reports over a period of time ... he was a very good college player," said Murray, who believes, with time, Butler can be a "goal scorer" in the NHL. "Hopefully, we can give him a couple of games before the year is over to let him know what he needs to do. He's got good hands. Like Brian Elliott and Erik Karlsson, it takes games in the league. It's a different game than he is used to playing."

The situation is not unlike the Senators' signing of Jesse Winchester out of Colgate two years ago. But Winchester, now a fourth-liner with the Senators, only scored eight goals his final year of college.

"It's an exciting time ... one week you're playing with your college buddies, then the next week you're lacing them up in the NHL," said Winchester. "If he loves the game and works hard, it's a great place to be."

Murray said he is also close to signing highly-touted defenceman Patrick Wiercioch, which means the team's second-round pick in 2008 will be leaving the University of Denver after two standout seasons. He'll be headed to Binghamton, where he'll join a couple of fellow prospects who were also signed Monday: Goalie Robin Lehner (second round, 2009) and defenceman Eric Gryba (second round, 2006).

Wiercioch, whose top- ranked team was eliminated by Butler's Wildcats, could see some action in Ottawa during the final seven games.

"We may have one or two other guys by the end of the week," Murray said of his signing binge.

Meanwhile, Brian Elliott was named the NHL's first star of the week for his four victories, two shutouts and 1.00 G.A.A., and it is with that honour that he'll face Alex Ovechkin and the league's most explosive offence. The Senators will be without defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who blocked a record 11 shots the last time these teams met.

Volchenkov, who suffered an upper body injury when he collided with teammate Andy Sutton Saturday, is expected to be back in the lineup Thursday. Brian Lee has been called up from Binghamton to take Volchenkov's place.

"We just see all teams in front of us have already clinched a playoff spot and we want to be next on that board," Elliott said when asked about the anticipation of playing in his first NHL post-season tournament.

The Senators' four-game winning streak will be put to a serious test, given the Caps have only lost five times at home this season and never twice in a row. They fell 5-3 to Calgary Sunday.

"They are going to be much more hungry after (the Calgary) game," said coach Cory Clouston.


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