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Butcher recorded 81.42sec to finished eighth after the heats of the K1 slalom, just 1.68sec behind top qualifier Marcello Beda, of Italy.
Butcher was joined by team-mates Jack Dangen (18th) and Callum Gilbert (25th) in going through to the next round.
All three paddlers from New Zealand recorded clean runs.
Butcher was happy with his run and knows he can go faster.
"I knew the run was going well once I got to the end but there were a couple of places that weren't super fast," he said.
"I fell a little low into gate 11 and then was off the poles in another up-stream gate but overall, it was pretty sweet. The times were tight and the standard is pretty high in the under-23s at the moment so it's going to be tough on Sunday but I'm really looking forward to it."
He too was delighted by the overall success of the team, paying tribute to a small but raucous group of New Zealand supporters - including his "second family", Central Otago kayaking stalwart Gordon Rayner and partner Mary Tritt - cheering from the banks of the Ivrea rapids.