February 2, 2011

AHL Journal: Butler rules All-Stars

by Dan Hickling

Bobby Butler (Marlboro, Mass.) has been dominating the AHL this season and has appeared in eight games with the Ottawa Senators. (photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It figures that Bobby Butler would make a big splash at the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic.

He’s been burying cannonballs just about everywhere else he’s gone.

Butler (Marlboro, Mass.), who is in the middle of a sensational — make that “Sen-sational” rookie season with the Binghamton Senators — walked off with the Most Valuable Player award at the Classic, which was staged Monday in Hershey, Pa.

What the former UNH star did in Chocolatetown to earn those laurels was to fire in one goal and set up three others to help the Eastern Conference slip past the Western Conference, 11-8.

“I just gave those guys the puck and they put it in,” said the soft-spoken Butler, a center/winger, after wowing the Giant Center capacity crowd. “That makes it look easy.”

Actually, it’s Butler who has been making goal-scoring seem like child’s play during his first pro season.

He’s scored 21 goals so far, the most by an AHL rookie this year, and is a prime reason why the B-Sens are solidly in the hunt for a playoff berth.

“Confidence is what it’s all about,” Butler said. “You need confidence in playing your game. And the kind of game I play, I need confidence in making plays and shooting the puck.”

Butler, who was never selected in the NHL Entry Draft, signed on with Ottawa late last year as a free agent after wrapping up a stellar senior season in New Hampshire.

How stellar was it?

Well, his 29 goals for the Wildcats was second (to Boston College’s Cam Atkinson) among all Division 1 marksmen, and was far more than the nine goals he scored as a junior (and as a freshman, for that matter).

With that, he was in the running for the Hobey Baker Award, making it as a finalist before finally losing out to Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion.

This year, Butler picked up in Binghamton right where he left off at UNH, firing in goals by the carload, a by-product of playing alongside accomplished AHL playmaker Corey Locke, who also had signed with the Senators in the offseason.

“(Butler) got off to a great start,” new Binghamton coach Kurt Kleinendorst said. “He’s still playing well. He’s been a nice player for us. I had him with Locke for quite awhile. Anyone playing with Locke is going to score goals. But I didn’t feel like he was making enough progress without the puck. So I took him away from Corey, and he’s not been scoring quite as much. But he contributes. From what I’ve noticed, he’s becoming a better all-around player.”

Butler’s finishing skills have earned him a couple of short stints in Ottawa, totaling eight games, but no points as of yet.

Then again, it should be remembered that Butler is a work in progress.

The goals may buy him a little time in the NHL, but to stay there, he’ll have to play a fully rounded game.

“Bobby’s a lot like Corey,” Kleinendorst said. “There’s not a lot I have to teach him about playing the game offensively or with the puck. It’s the defensive side. And he’s not bad. But if he needs to work in any area, that’s the one.”

Around the AHL

Butler was not the only one with New England ties to shine at the All-Stars. Rhett Rakhshani of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers matched Butler’s numbers (1-3-4), and Locke, a former Hartford WolfPack, added two points to his record career All-Star pile, which has grown to 11 over five All-Star appearances. …

When the teams resume their post All-Star play, it will be Manchester (63 points) and Portland (62) leading the rest of the Atlantic Division pack by a wide margin. The distance between third-place Worcester (52) and sixth-place Springfield (48) is just four points. It’s possible that only three Atlantic clubs will make the playoffs, which would happen if the fifth-place club in the East Division winds up with more points than the fourth-place club in the Atlantic. But that’s still two months off.

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com