(HockeySTL)-- The start to Chris Butler’s seventh season of professional hockey wasn’t exactly picturesque. In fact, it was a rather disappointing beginning to the defenseman’s tenure with St. Louis.
The 28-year-old, who signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Blues this past offseason has yet to make his Blues debut and until recently hadn’t been on the Blues’ 23-man roster after failing to make the NHL club out of training camp.
On Saturday, defenseman Jordan Leopold was dealt to Columbus, freeing up a spot for Butler. The defenseman received a call from general manager Doug Armstrong and soon after began packing for a trip to back to St. Louis.
“It was nice,” Butler said. “We had just played the night before and we had just gotten into Rochester. I had finished a meeting and a lunch and got a call from ‘Army’. It was very nice to get.”
Butler, who is poised to make $650,000 at the NHL level, was a cheaper option and as a player with 349 games of NHL experience he was seen as a more than viable option.
“We knew he could play in the league,” said Blues associate coach Brad Shaw. “We’ve seen him for years in Buffalo and Calgary. That wasn’t an issue. I think sometimes it’s good to take a little bit of a break and sending him down to the American League gives him an opportunity to play with less pressure, get more ice time. From everything we have heard from their coaching staff, he has been their best defenseman, especially lately.”
The St. Louis native had one goal, nine points in 14 games with the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate Chicago Wolves. As he came off the ice Monday following his first NHL practice since October, Butler talked about his first month of the season and how it was a different experience.
“It was great,” Butler said. “We have a really good team in Chicago, really deep. I had a chance to go down there and play a ton, play in more situations and try to help some of the younger guys as much as I could. It was a lot of fun. It’s a first-class organization, very NHL-like organization.
“It was humbling at first after being in the NHL for six seasons, kind of going back to where you started. But it was a chance to work on my game and try and work on the offensive side of things. Just a chance to really get some confidence back.”
In Chicago, Butler was one of the Wolves’ go-to defensemen. He was used in all situations, including on the power play and penalty kill. With the Blues, he will be battling just to crack the lineup, but he understood his chances when he signed with the team this offseason after spending the last three years with Calgary.
“It was something we talked about in the summer when I made my decision to come, knowing there would maybe be this opportunity but you would have to be a little patient,” Butler said.
Still, even as the Blues’ seventh defenseman, the veteran will get opportunities, albeit they may be sparse.
“Yeah, it will be,” Butler said. “But you obviously stay ready, stay focused and make sure your game stays sharp for when you’re called upon. It’s a long year; a lot of strange things can happen over the course of the year. You just be ready.”
“It’d be great if he could play some games; the bad news is if he’s playing then one of our top six isn’t playing,” said Shaw. “It’s a long year and he’s going to play games. We are going to need seven or eight guys who have played key minutes for us by the time we get to the end of the year.”
Butler was taking turns on the Blues’ third pairing in Monday’s practice. He isn’t expected to play on Tuesday.