Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres got one of their three remaining restricted free agents under contract on Thursday with the signing of forward Casey Mittelstadt to a three-year, $7.5 million deal. That puts an average annual value of $2.5 million onto the salary cap.
By offering the 22-year-old a three-year deal, the Sabres avoid two years of arbitration. It also is in line with what general manager Kevyn Adams has said, which is building from good drafting and taking care of your own as they earn it. That is the formula that has made Sean McDermott, Brandon Beane and the Buffalo Bills so successful.
Mittelstadt was pretty much nowhere in his professional career until Don Granato took over for the fired Ralph Krueger as head coach.
In 28 games under Granato (he played one under Adams), Mittelstadt netted nine goals and nine assists for 18 points. That’s 26 goals and 52 points over 82 games. In his 155 career games with the Sabres, Mittelstadt averages 14 goals and 32 points over 82 games.
Mittelstadt wasn’t given much of an opportunity under Krueger, as he was on the taxi squad for a lot of that time, getting only 12 games in. He scored one goal and three assists playing on the wing.
Granato put Mittelstadt between Tage Thompson and Rasmus Asplund and allowed the trio to play in all situations. The line was out in the final 30 seconds of games, and most nights did a terrific job.
It was just during the 2019-20 season when Mittelstadt was sent down to the Rochester Americans, where he also struggled until the tail end of the season.
Mittelstadt earned his ice-time last year, and he said there were reasons why.
“I think the game slowed down a little bit for me, especially when 'Donny' took over," Mittelstadt said at his end-of-season conference call back in May. "The [defensive zone] coverages started to make a lot of sense to me, so I was better defensively, and that leads to so much more offensive pressure.”
There were other ways Granato made an impact on the youngster throughout the 28-game stretch last season.
“'Donny' challenged me to be better, challenged me to take a step and play a bigger role. Sometimes guys need that, and it was good for me to come into the game and know I was going to play, and going to play against the other team’s top players," Mittelstadt said. "For me, that leads to no room to fail. You’ve got to be at your best, so it’s that simple.”
That experience was invaluable to the kids on that line. Yes, as Mittelstadt said, there were hiccups, but they got better as they got to do it more.
Mittelstadt also appreciated Granato sticking with him, because he knows he struggled in his first few games getting back to center.
He talked about how it drove him when he went down to the AHL, not knowing if he’d have a career in the NHL.
“It changed my mindset in the offseason," Mittelstadt said. "It was a good lesson for me to go home and realize the amount of work I have to put in every day, and the things that I have to do away from the rink to get myself ready to play. When you do that, you get into a zone and you get out what you put into it.”
The Sabres still have to re-sign defensemen Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju.