BUFFALO – As puck drop approaches, Sabres rookie Casey Mittelstadt said he might experience some nerves.
“It might be a bit of a long day,” the speedy center said this morning after preparing for his NHL debut, tonight’s tilt against the Detroit Red Wings.
Still, hours before the game, the Sabres’ top prospect seemed unfazed by the life-changing day and all the attention being paid to him.
“I’m not one to get super nervous,” Mittelstadt said inside KeyBank Center. “Once you get out there, the adrenaline usually gets going. I think I can play off that and it’s not too bad. We’ll see how it goes tonight.”
The Sabres, of course, want to ease some of the expectations on Mittelstadt. The team’s disgruntled fan base expects the eighth overall pick in 2017 to have an immediate impact on the last-place team.
“There’s no pressure on him,” Housley said. “We just want him to be a part of our group and just play his game and the simplicity of it and not stay out, manage his shift lengths.”
Housley tried to help Mittelstadt by placing him between Evan Rodrigues and Sam Reinhart, two skillful wingers he said are “responsible players down.”
“Sam’s really good at going to the net, (Rodrigues is) good at seeing the ice well, so it’s a good combination,” Housley said.
Rodrigues said he offered Mittelstadt some advice.
“I already told him the first few shifts just have a shot mentality,” Rodrigues said. “Once you kind of get those first shots under your belt, you seem to loosen up a little bit, calm down a little bit. I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
To Housley, Mittelstadt’s biggest transition is simply getting back to game speed. While Mittelstadt skated at the University of Minnesota before signing his entry-level contract earlier this week, he hasn’t played a game since March 3.
“The speed’s going to come a lot faster at him,” Housley said. “Detroit’s a very good rush team, they’re fast, so all those things I think he’s going to have to get comfortable with quickly. But I feel his instincts will take over from that point.”
Meanwhile, Housley said center Kyle Criscuolo, out since suffering an upper-body injury March 5, is “ready to go.”
“Getting close to getting back in the lineup,” Housley said.
The Sabres will scratch defensemen Victor Antipin and Josh Gorges.