Casey Mittelstadt has a team-high 42 points. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Amid trade speculation, Sabres’ Casey Mittelstadt thriving: ‘I love it here’

BUFFALO – Center Casey Mittelstadt understands the trade speculation. The Sabres, after all, are mired in 14th place, a distant 12 points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot. Changes will inevitably come.

“I mean, it’s a business, right?” he said of his future being discussed.

In the midst of a disappointing year, Mittelstadt, 25, has emerged as the Sabres’ leading scorer and perhaps their most consistent forward. As a restricted free agent following the season, he can likely at least double the $2.5 million average annual value his current contract carries.

There’s a belief Mittelstadt, the eighth overall pick in 2017, could be pricing himself out of Buffalo. Next season, long-term extensions for defensemen Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power worth more than a combined $19 million per year will kick in.

The Sabres will have five players carrying salary cap hits of at least $7 million. They also have several other talented young core players set to become RFAs this year or next, most notably No. 1 goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

So, understandably, Mittelstadt’s name has been popping up in trade rumors. Are the Sabres actively trying to deal him? Probably not. But you can bet teams are phoning general manager Kevyn Adams to see if he’s available.

If the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Mittelstadt has his way, he will stay put.

“My message has been the same: I love it here,” he said following Monday’s practice in KeyBank Center, where the Sabres host the Los Angeles Kings tonight.

Mittelstadt often talks about how much he enjoys playing in Buffalo and being around his teammates. While the Sabres have struggled throughout the season – incredibly, they haven’t won more than two consecutive games – he said he believes “in the guys here.”

“This year hasn’t been the best, but I’ve seen the way we can play and what we can do,” he said. “Just the way the room is, it gives me a lot of hope. At the same time, it’s definitely not my decision, and whatever happens happens. And either way, I get to play hockey for a living.”

Moving Mittelstadt, a durable and versatile presence, would fetch the Sabres a significant return to address some of their needs and create a massive hole in their lineup. A strong argument can be made he has morphed into their most valuable forward this season.

In addition to pivoting one of their top three lines, the Sabres’ top playmaker can shift to the wing. His 42 points, 30 assists, 13 primary assists, 36 even-strength points and plus-8 rating all lead the team. He has never finished a season above a minus-6.

He’s the Sabres’ only forward who has played all 51 games. He has skated 944 minutes, the highest total among forwards.

Coach Don Granato’s belief in Mittelstadt keeps growing. He has averaged 18 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time per outing this season, a total that among forwards, only trails winger Alex Tuch (19:06), his linemate. Mittelstadt has never averaged more than 16:07 in a full season.

“More than anything, it’s just good for me in the way I feel like Donny trusts me more maybe defensively than in the past,” he said. “I think I’ve, obviously, tried to work on the 200-foot game.”

As Mittelstadt’s confidence has ballooned, he has developed more consistency. Other than a four-game point drought in November, he hasn’t gone more than two consecutive contests without recording a point.

“In my opinion, consistency is the biggest thing,” he said of his evolution this season. “I feel like I’ve played well for a little while now, and I think that helps the confidence that even if you have one game, you’re coming back and you’re going to have your opportunities again the next night.”

Early in his career, it appeared Mittelstadt might never reach his potential. He struggled to reach high expectations after he jumped to the NHL in 2018 following his freshman year at Minnesota. He endured a demotion to the minors, stints on the taxi squad and injuries before coming into his own late last season.

Since March 25, Mittelstadt’s 52 even-strength points – three more than Connor McDavid – are tied for fourth in the NHL with Auston Matthews.

Granato said Mittelstadt’s development into one of the Sabres’ drivers has been “a long, long process.”

“He’s battled adversity and challenges and been torn apart up and down on all fronts,” he said. “… When you come out the other side, you got a lot of experience. And that’s what we’re seeing now, we’re seeing a guy that can handle it – pressure, handle the moment, handle situations. (He) is having a great year as a result.”

One thought on “Amid trade speculation, Sabres’ Casey Mittelstadt thriving: ‘I love it here’”

  1. It makes ZERO sense trading Middlestadt. He’s having his best season, and I don’t believe it’s a fluke. Trade Power and that ridiculous contract.

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