It's safe to say that not many draftniks thought that center Casey Mittelstadt would still be available with the eighth pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. But he was, and new GM Jason Botterill jumped right on it. "Isn't that the cliche'?" Botterill deadpanned as he spoke to the media after Round-1 of the draft to the gathered media. "You've got to say, 'Oh, I can't believe that he was there!'"
In this case, there really was an element of surprise. Mittelstadt was ranked the third-best North American skater by Central Scouting while McKeen's Hockey ranked him fifth. But there he was at No. 8 and despite the Sabres in desperate need of depth on the blueline, Botterill was more than happy to select Mittelstadt. .) "As I've talked about before," began the first-time GM, "if there's a fit, then we are going to make that selection for a defenseman or a goaltender, but we're not going to force it.
"I don't like saying this word when talking about hockey players," continued Botterill, "but you're trying to get the best athlete. If there's another good centerman tomorrow in our early picks we're probably going to select him. If it's close then we'll probably lean towards a defenseman" (they ended up taking a centerman with their first pick in the second round as well.)"
It's been less than a year since Mittelstadt was selected by the Sabres. He's played a lot of hockey in that time both as a freshman for the University of Minnesota and as a member of Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo. His freshman season was real solid with 30 points (11+19) in 34 games and at the WJC in Buffalo he helped lead the U.S. to a bronze medal while collecting Tournament MVP honors.
Earlier this week, Mittelstadt decided to turn pro.
"It was always a dream, as long as I can remember, to play in the NHL," said Mittelstadt to the media on Tuesday. "My steps were, I want to play high school, I want to be a [Minnesota Golden] Gopher and go to the NHL" The Minnesota native finished by saying, "It's pretty much every Minnesota kid's dream."
Yesterday Mittelstadt was welcomed to the team and lead the stretch at center ice. Today he took his morning skate and is ready to hit the ice tonight at KeyBank Center against the Detroit Red Wings.
Reports from the rink have Mittelstadt centering Evan Rodrigues and Sam Reinhart creating a talented line with a little bit of speed and a lot of hockey sense.
The other lines:
On defense the parings look like:
Robin Lehner is the projected start in net for Buffalo.