Casey Mittelstadt has developed into a coveted center. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Casey Mittelstadt’s status made trading for coveted Bowen Byram possible

BUFFALO – Kevyn Adams said he never shopped Casey Mittelstadt around the NHL. No, the Sabres general manager said, the center’s emergence made him a sought-after asset.

When other GMs called him to ask about Mittelstadt, his leading scorer, he made it clear he was willing to listen and think about possible scenarios.

Adams said he had been working for a couple of years to find a young, top-pair defenseman. Those type of defenders, of course, are extremely difficult to pry away from teams.

“You generally have to draft him,” said Adams, who on Wednesday traded Mittelstadt to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defenseman Bowen Byram. “So these are really, really difficult trades to make.”

When Adams learned about two weeks ago Byram, 22, might be available, he examined the youngster closely and also had associate GM Jason Karmanos and director of pro scouting Jeremiah Crowe fly around the country to watch him.

“These situations are a little fluid,” Adams said. “… Temperature rises and then things quiet down, and then I’d say two or three days before the deal it started to really ramp up again. And then it was a complicated deal based on them.”

Before the deal could completed, the Avalanche needed to dish center Ryan Johansen and a conditional first-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defenseman Sean Walker and a fifth-round pick.

“I don’t want to say (it) complicated it, but it made it tricky,” Adams said. “And ultimately we made the trade. But it was something that, with a player of Casey’s status and stature, took a lot of thought.”

So, why was Byram, the fourth overall pick in 2019, the guy for Adams? He said he possesses “everything I look for in a defenseman.”

Naturally, Adams brought others into the decision-making process.

“Personally, I love his ability to get up in the play and move the puck, his calmness, his skating ability,” he said. “I believe he’s got even more offensive upside than maybe he’s been able to completely show this young in his career. And he’s a guy that can play both sides, that mattered in this deal. (He) likes the right side, and so that’s something you think about as well.

“Just his age, where I feel like he’s a guy that can really mature and grow with this group and that’s something I’ve been really working on, too, because if you’re going to look and add a defenseman, especially a top-type defenseman, you may do it through free agency and then it might be really good for a couple years and now you’ve got a guy at the real back end of his career.”

Byram is expected to make his home debut in this afternoon’s game against the Edmonton Oilers at KeyBank Center. He looked sharp in his first game with Buffalo on Thursday, recording goal and an assist in a 4-2 road loss to the Nashville Predators.

He mostly skated on the left alongside Rasmus Dahlin.

Adams expressed confidence center Peyton Krebs and some of the Sabres’ high-end prospects can fill some of the void Mittelstadt’s departure creates.

He said the Sabres want to address the center position in the offseason. In the 48 hours leading up to Friday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, he also talked to some teams about acquiring a veteran pivot.

As expected, the Sabres traded veteran defenseman Erik Johnson, sending him to the Flyers shortly before Friday’s deadline in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2024.

The Sabres scratched Johnson, 35, the last five games to protect their asset before the deadline.

After signing a one-year, $3.25 million contract as a free agent, Johnson, who won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2022, compiled three goals, all goals, in 50 games with the Sabres.

Dealing Johnson possibly gives him an another chance to compete in the playoffs. Right now, the Flyers rank third in the Metropolitan Division.

The Sabres made one other deal Friday, trading Rochester Americans goalie Devin Cooley to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a seventh-round pick in 2025. Cooley grew up in the San Jose area.

With goalie Devon Levi playing regularly for the Amerks, Cooley, 26, ranked third on their depth chart behind the rookie and Dustin Tokarski.

Cooley compiled a 6-6-2 record with a 3.77 goals-against average and an .891 save percentage in 14 games with the Amerks this season. He backed up one game for the Sabres.

“We got a phone call late there that they were looking for (a goalie),” Adams said. “We were able to move someone that was kind of in a tough spot in Rochester for a seventh-round pick. For me, it’s just a good deal for us in that situation we were in. It’s good for him.”

The Sabres on Friday recalled forward Tyson Jost and defenseman Kale Clague from Rochester and sent rookie defenseman Ryan Johnson to the AHL club.

Jost, 25, compiled four goals and 14 points in 25 games with the Amerks during his longest stint in the AHL in his career. He had played just 13 games in the minors before the Sabres sent him down.

He registered two goals and two points in 29 games with the Sabres earlier this season.

Clague, 25, has scored three goals and 23 points in 43 games with the Amerks this year. He recorded one assist during his two-game recall to Buffalo.

Meanwhile, Johnson, 22, has compiled seven assists in 41 games with the Sabres this season. He started the campaign in Rochester, recording four assists in nine contests.

The Sabres plan to keep Johnson in the minors for now.

“He can go play some big minutes right now,” Adams said. “Every game right now is basically a playoff game in Rochester. They’re fighting. So he’s been tremendous.”

Johnson and Sabres winger Lukas Rousek, who on Friday was briefly sent to the Amerks in a paper transaction, are eligible for the Calder Cup Playoffs.

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