After being tagged with the nickname "Butch" by his younger brother, McDonald started his organized hockey career with the Moose Jaw Canucks in his hometown. A fine skater and stickhandler, McDonald was signed by the Pittsburgh Yellowjackets of the Eastern League where he put up solid scoring numbers.
The Detroit Red Wings signed McDonald in the fall of 1937, sending him to their IAHL team in Pittsburgh to develop further. In 1939-40, he was brought up to the parent club, playing 37 games with Detroit. But the Red Wings sent him back to the minors, and Butch played in Indianapolis before the military called.
Returning from active duty in 1944-45, McDonald returned to Indianapolis, but was called by the Red Wings once again. It was for just three games this time. The Detroit Red Wings traded McDonald, Don Grosso, and Cully Simon to the Chicago Black Hawks for Earl Siebert and Fido Purpur on January 2, 1945, and McDonald immediately suited up for the Hawks. But at the end of the 1944-45 season, Chicago sent McDonald to their affiliate in the USHL, the Kansas City Pla-Mors. Unfortunately, Butch McDonald did not play any more in the NHL, and he retired during the 1949-50 season.