The Buffalo Sabres on Thursday locked up two of their three restricted free agents, re-signing center Casey Mittelstadt and defenseman Henri Jokiharju to identical three-year, $7.5 million contracts.
Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is now the Sabres’ only restricted free agent. Training camp is scheduled to begin later this month.
The Mittelstadt and Jokiharju deals, which carry $2.5 million salary cap hits, could look like bargains in the near future.
Mittelstadt, 22, enjoyed a breakout stretch under new coach Don Granato and will likely be the rebuilding Sabres’ top center this season. Captain Jack Eichel, who wants to be traded, is still recovering from a neck injury. The Sabres dealt center Sam Reinhart, their leading scorer, to the Florida Panthers on July 24.
Mittelstadt scored nine goals and 17 points over the final 22 games last season. Overall, he compiled 10 goals and 22 points in 41 contests.
The 6-foot-1, 196-pound Mittelstadt struggled to reach expectations after the Sabres drafted him eighth overall in 2017. In 2019-20, his second full pro season, he started getting scratched before the Sabres sent him to the Rochester Americans.
While Mittelstadt had a strong camp last season and performed well in limited action, he mostly skated as a fourth-line winger. But he began unlocking his potential after Granato took over March 17.
Injuries and trades helped create new opportunities for Mittelstadt. Granato also kept him at center, his natural position, and awarded him consistent ice time.
Mittelstadt has compiled 27 goals and 61 points in 155 career NHL games.
Meanwhile, Jokiharju, 22, cemented regular duty again late last season after enduring a rough stretch in which he was scratched and assigned to the taxi squad.
Under Granato, the 6-foot, 199-pound Jokiharju often showcased the steady form that made him arguably the Sabres’ most consistent defender in 2019-20, his first season in Buffalo.
Jokiharju recorded three goals and eight points in 46 games last season. Overall, he has registered seven goals and 35 points in 153 career NHL outings.
The Sabres acquired the Finn from the Chicago Blackhawks in 2019 in exchange for winger Alexander Nylander.