BUFFALO – Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin was so excited to practice with his teammates Tuesday morning he said he woke up at 6:30.
“I was nervous, it felt like Christmas,” said an upbeat Dahlin, who has missed eight games after suffering a concussion Nov. 25. “Good to be back. I was really happy to skate with the boys today.”
Dahlin, 19, hasn’t played since Tampa Bay Lighting defenseman Erik Cernak elbowed him in the face. Sitting out has been a new experience for Dahlin, who had never missed an NHL game prior to the hit.
The Swede, of course, is getting antsy.
“He’s been bouncing off the walls at home,” said Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt, Dahlin’s roommate.
Dahlin missed Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues at KeyBank Center. Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said the youngster hasn’t been cleared to play.
“He hasn’t passed the necessary tests yet, so he’s non-contact in practice right now, so as it is with these type of injuries it’s day-to-day still,” he said.
Dahlin, who has been skating a couple days, said he has “no clue” if he can return this week. The Sabres also play Thursday and Saturday afternoon.
The former first overall pick said Cernak, who received a two-game suspension, texted him following the hit and said he did not mean to hurt him.
“I just texted back, ‘It’s hockey,’” Dahlin said. “Stuff like that happens on the ice all the time. It’s fine.”
Dahlin has compiled one goal and 16 points in 24 games this season.
Mittelstadt understands why he was scratched last game. He knows he played poorly in Saturday afternoon’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
The Sabres have forward depth again, so Mittelstadt, who has scored one goal in the last 21 games, sat out Sunday’s 3-2 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers.
“It’s not a secret I didn’t play well in Vancouver,” Mittelstadt said.
After getting benched for the first time this year, Mittelstadt returned Tuesday.
Mittelstadt, 21, has struggled much of this season, his second full NHL campaign, compiling four goals and nine points in 31 contests.
On Saturday, he was a minus-2 and played under 10 minutes for the first time since Oct. 11.
“There was a couple defensive things that I’ve kind of been better at this year,” Mittelstadt said. “I thought I slipped a little bit in that situation, but I don’t think it’s a secret. Obviously, I didn’t get much of a rhythm going. I didn’t think it was my best game.”
Mittelstadt, the eighth overall pick in 2018, tried to embrace sitting out.
“You watch a little bit of film, have a nice talk with the coach,” he said. “I think it’s nice to watch a game from up top, too. I think you’re always playing and you get stuck in it, and you kind of get to watch from up top and see the whole rink and see where there’s some room, figure out what you would do in certain situations.”
Mittelstadt, who had been playing wing, shifted back to center Tuesday between Jeff Skinner and Evan Rodrigues.
Don’t be surprised if Mittelstadt keeps switching positions.
“For a lot of young centermen, the way into the National Hockey League is by spotting back and forth between actually being exposed to center and playing the wing where you can just play a little bit freer offensively,” Krueger said. “Now, within our system you need to be responsible both ways. But I think for Casey, it’s good for him to switch back and forth as we walk through this season depending on the opposition, depending on the type of matchups we feel we’ll be getting on the evening.”
Mittelstadt replaced winger Conor Sheary. Meanwhile, defenseman Jake McCabe, who also sat out Sunday, went in for Marco Scandella.
Sheary has mustered only two goals in his last 23 outings.
Former Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly, 28, said returning to Buffalo for the second time with the Blues was “another game.”
“The first time is obviously very weird,” said O’Reilly, who won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP last season. “When I first went back to Colorado and then coming back here, that first time is always a little different. There’s obviously some people talking about it.
“Now I feel it’s a bit different. It’s a much different team over there, a lot of new faces, guys I haven’t played with. Yeah, so I think it’s not as weird as it was last time.”
O’Reilly, who was traded July 1, 2018, only played with 10 Sabres in Tuesday’s lineup.