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Sabres Notebook: Butcher liked Buffalo, loved Devils; Hischier meets Federer

For Will Butcher, there was nothing wrong with Buffalo. He knows it's a great hockey town. He liked the Sabres' organization.

The simple fact is he liked the New Jersey Devils better.

The Sabres recruited and wooed Butcher this summer, and the Hobey Baker Award winner made Buffalo one of his four finalists. Ultimately, he chose the Devils in August.

In an intriguing twist, his first time pulling on a Devils jersey was Friday night in Buffalo. New Jersey beat the Sabres in overtime, 4-3, in their opening game of the Prospects Challenge.

"It's kind of neat to be back here in Buffalo because it's a great hockey town," Butcher said in HarborCenter.

Before making his decision, the 22-year-old visited Buffalo, New Jersey, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill made a good impression.

"It was great," Butcher said. "Botterill was a great guy. I came in and saw everything they had to offer. They have so many great resources.

"Like I said, it's just a great city. It's a great hockey town to be part of."

Hopes of landing the University of Denver product skyrocketed in Buffalo when a picture surfaced of Butcher walking through the Denver airport with a Sabres gym bag slung over his shoulder.

"It was kind of funny," Butcher said. "I was walking through the airport at like 11:30 at night. I don't know, it's just typical. You can't get anywhere these days with media. It's not a big deal."

Will Butcher was a highly sought defenseman after a championship career at the University of Denver. (Getty Images)

While any team could offer him gear, none formed the bond he quickly established with New Jersey. He connected with GM Ray Shero and coach John Hynes. He bought what they were selling after seeing the team draft Nico Hischier first overall a year after acquiring Taylor Hall. Butcher liked the building process.

"Mr. Shero has done a tremendous job so far with that, taking the program where he wants to be and where everybody in the organization wants to be," Butcher said. "I saw that as part of the recruiting process and felt like I needed to be part of that. That was a huge factor in my decision."

Predictably, the decision resulted in boos in Buffalo. The fans in HarborCenter loudly jeered whenever Butcher touched the puck.

"The fans definitely made sure we knew when he had the puck," Sabres right wing Justin Bailey said with a smile. "I tried to give him a couple of extra shots there anytime I could."

The Devils hope Butcher gets the fans' attention in every rink he enters.

"Obviously, he's got to make the transition to pro hockey and you've got to be careful not to have too high of expectations, but there's no question he's a special talent," said Binghamton Devils coach Rick Kowalsky, who is running the prospect team.

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With coaches, development coaches and scouts, there's no shortage of advice for prospects. Only one, however, is getting tips from one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.

Tennis legend Roger Federer recently offered advice to Swiss countryman Nico Hischier. The Devils selected the center with the top pick in this year's draft.

"I saw that, and then I got to meet him," said Hischier, who attended Federer's third-round victory over Feliciano Lopez at the U.S. Open. "After the game I could go down and see him. It was special. To hear that words from him is something special, too."

Said Federer: "We're happy in Switzerland that we have such a great hockey player in the starting blocks who is hopefully going to be a great, great player. Hope he stays healthy. I'm only hearing great things about him. He's a good guy. Unbelievably talented. People predict a great future ahead of him.

"I had the same. It's always easy to predict. But he's the guy who has to put in the work and be the guy who does it every single night on the ice. That's the tough thing about it. It's always easy for people to talk, predict you're going to be world No. 1, best goal-scorer. Doesn't matter. You have to put your head down and just work as hard as you possibly can, have a great entourage around you. If he has any questions, I'm always happy to help."

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There are eight first-round selections participating in the Prospects Challenge. All but one comes from Boston or New Jersey.

The Sabres boast Alex Nylander, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. The Devils have Hischier, forward Michael McLeod (No. 12, 2016) and left wing John Quenneville (No. 30, 2014). Boston sent defenseman Charlie McAvoy (No. 14, 2016) and its trio of first-round picks from 2015: defenseman Jakub Zboril (No. 13) and forwards Jake DeBrusk (No. 14) and Zach Senyshyn (No. 15.)

Pittsburgh doesn't have any first-round picks in the tournament. The reason? The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions haven't made a first-round pick since 2014. The last three selections were traded to bolster the roster.

Bigger, more confident Nylander ready to prove himself to Sabres

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