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Mittelstadt to cap busy year with NHL debut for Sabres

Whirlwind since selection in 2017 Draft has center prepared for biggest stage yet vs. Red Wings

by Joe Yerdon / Correspondent

BUFFALO -- When the Buffalo Sabres selected center Casey Mittelstadt with the No. 8 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, they knew his future would be as busy as it was bright, and now that hectic schedule has brought him to the NHL.

The Sabres signed Mittelstadt, 19, to a three-year entry-level contract Monday, weeks after his freshman season at the University of Minnesota ended and more than two months since his appearance in Buffalo with the United States at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Mittelstadt's next game in Buffalo is expected to be his NHL debut, when the Sabres host the Detroit Red Wings at KeyBank Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, FS-D+, NHL.TV).

"It's definitely been a whirlwind, I'm not going to lie," Mittelstadt said Tuesday. "I think making my decision and then traveling out here so fast, getting on the ice and trying to do the little things, trying to get myself ready for Thursday, I think it's been a bit of a whirlwind.

"But at the same time, I feel like I've kind of been through it before although obviously a little different. The stage is a little different when I went from [ juniors with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program] to high school [in Eden Prairie, Minnesota] to right back to juniors and then the draft combine. All that stuff I think honestly kind of prepared me for it, and obviously this is on a whole new level getting to come here and play in the NHL, but it's definitely been a whirlwind."

Mittelstadt said his decision to sign with the Sabres rather than staying in college was one he had to think about carefully.

"I think I wanted to make sure that the decision I came to, I was both feet in," he said, "and I think I took a few days, almost a week, to weigh it out and see what I wanted to do. It came up over and over again that both my feet were in to go pro and play in the NHL."

Mittelstadt had 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 34 games with the Golden Gophers this season, but Minnesota failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament. But it was during the 2018 World Juniors when he found the spotlight.

Mittelstadt was voted the most valuable player of the tournament after he helped the United States win the bronze medal, with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in seven games.

"I think definitely at World Juniors it crosses your mind because it's in Buffalo and you can see yourself playing in this rink and this setting in the future," Mittelstadt said. "I don't think I had a specific schedule or time frame at the time, I think, like I said, I was focused on World Juniors; that's a big enough stage in itself. I think I was focused on that, focused on going back to the University of Minnesota.

"Obviously things didn't turn out the way we wanted to this year, but when the time came and I had some time to sit down and think and talk with my family about things, I think that this was the right decision for me."

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