BUFFALO – In barely a year, Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt has lived all three of his hockey dreams.
Right now, having just signed his three-year, entry-level contract, Mittelstadt is beginning his NHL career. The slick center will likely make his debut Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Earlier this month, the eighth overall pick in 2017 finished his freshman season at the University of Minnesota. A year ago, he played at Eden Prairie High School, foregoing junior hockey most of the season because he wanted to win a state championship.
“As young as I can remember I wanted to play in the NHL,” Mittelstadt said Tuesday during his introductory news conference inside KeyBank Center. “My steps were always kind of I want to play high school, I want to go be a Gopher and go to the NHL. It’s pretty much every Minnesota kid’s dream.
“So for me, I’ve definitely lived a pretty perfect life to this point. I’m pretty lucky. My parents were really good growing up, they supported me through everything, gave me a lot of opportunities I couldn’t imagine.”
Two weeks ago, Mittelstadt, 19, wasn’t envisioning his future here quite yet. Minnesota seemed like a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
But an unlikely string of events kept the Golden Gophers out.
“Literally everything was going wrong pretty much,” Mittelstadt said.
At first, Mittelstadt was disappointed the season ended so abruptly.
“It was so early that I didn’t even think that I was going to start thinking about what I was going to have to do,” he said.
Then Mittelstadt and the Sabres began discussing his future. He said the recent resignation of Minnesota’s legendary coach, Don Lucia, wasn’t a factor in his decision.
By Sunday, after Sabres general manager Jason Botterill gave him time to think about his next move, Mittelstadt was ready to sign.
“I wanted to make sure the decision I came to I had both feet in,” he said. “Obviously, I took a few days, almost a week, to decide what I wanted to do. It came up over and over again both my feet were in to go pro and play in the NHL.”
Mittelstadt said the Sabres’ desire to have him helped him leave school.
“We wanted it to be more of a partnership rather than like us two kind of clashing, going at it,” he said. “We wanted to figure out what was best for me. We kind of went through it and agreed on pretty much everything there. So it went pretty quick, pretty smoothly and obviously I’m definitely excited to be a Buffalo Sabre.”
Clearly, Mittelstadt’s comfortable with the Sabres and in his new city. He attended development camp last July, so he knows many of the organization’s other youngsters and some of his new teammates. He also dazzled for Team USA at the World Junior Championship the Sabres hosted after Christmas.
Sabres center Jack Eichel, 21, welcomed Mittelstadt to the team Tuesday by taking him to lunch at Chipotle.
“It’s definitely something pretty cool for a kid like me,” Mittelstadt said of dining with the American star. “I think … getting to know him and having him welcome you like that, it’s something really special for me. I think it’s good to know that he’s excited I’m here and that he’s interested in getting to know me.”
Sabres coach Phil Housley, of course, will also get to know Mittelstadt well over the final six games. Housley, a Hall of Fame defenseman, is a Minnesota hockey legend. Like Mittelstadt, he played high school hockey and jumped to the NHL as a teenager.
So the coach and his newest player share something unique.
“Everything I’ve heard, everyone has said he’s a really good guy, a really good coach,” Mittelstadt said. “He likes to play fast, play with pace, I think that fits my game really well. It’s definitely exciting. I think it’s nice to be able to relate to him a little bit, both playing high school hockey, things like that.”
Mittelstadt will wear No. 37. He said the number has no significance.
“Me and my buddies … from back home, (about) what number I should wear,” he said. “I’ve worn 11, 21, 22 they were all taken, so might as well switch it up and go for 37.”
Notes: Former Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who spent the last two seasons playing in his native Germany, has retired. Ehrhoff, 35, signed a 10-year, $40 million contract the with the Sabres in 2011. After using a buyout in 2014, the team is paying him $857,143 a season until 2027-28, according to capfriendly.com. … The Sabres, who had Tuesday off, sent winger Justin Bailey back to the Rochester Americans.