TORONTO - Casey Mittelstadt will be in the lineup for the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on Thursday night, if all goes according to plan.
That plan, according to general manager Jason Botterill, has the 19-year-old forward undergoing his physical in Buffalo on Tuesday, joining the team for practice on Wednesday and ultimately playing against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.
Mittelstadt agreed to a three-year, entry-level contract with the Sabres on Monday morning after scoring 30 points (11+19) in 34 games during his lone collegiate season at the University of Minnesota. The forward was drafted by Buffalo with the eighth overall pick last summer.
"It's been exciting watching him throughout the entire year," Botterill said. "… We're excited to see how he handles himself here. The biggest thing is setting him up for success next October."
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The Sabres also signed defenseman Will Borgen, a fourth-round pick in 2015, to an entry-level deal on Sunday. Borgen will report to Rochester on an amateur tryout, allowing his contract to kick in at the beginning of next season.
Botterill is a vocal advocate for development in the AHL but came to an agreement with Mittelstadt's advisors that an NHL stint to end the season was an ideal option for both sides. The GM said he also hopes for Mittelstadt to represent Team USA at the IIHF World Championships this spring.
Botterill cited Mittelstadt's performance at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo, when he scored 11 points (4+7) in seven games and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, as evidence that the young forward is ready to make the jump to professional hockey.
"I'm always excited about Casey's hockey sense and his skill level, things that we've talked about with our group here in Buffalo, improving our team speed and improving our team skill level," Botterill said. "We really like watching him throughout the entire year, just his competitiveness in crucial situations.
"… There could've been a lot of pressure on him [at World Juniors], but he really excelled in that situation."
Mittelstadt is a center by trade, but Botterill indicated we may see him on the wing as well over the final six games of the season.
"That's the beauty of Casey and what we like about him as a player, is the versatility," he said. "Our plan is to start him up at center. I think that's what the next five or six games are to do here, is to try and put him in a lot of different situations.
"I'm sure he'll have some success and also have some failures, but what we've seen from Casey is that he learns from his mistakes fairly quickly and I think just gaining that experience in different spots will be very beneficial."
Mittelstadt took time to make his decision after the University of Minnesota fell short of the NCAA Tournament earlier this month, a development that caught him off guard. Matters were further complicated when longtime Gophers coach Don Lucia resigned on March 20.
Borgen, meanwhile, was quick to come to terms after St. Cloud University was upset by Air Force in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. Borgen finished his collegiate career with 41 points (5+36) in 106 games over three seasons. He was a member of Team USA at the Olympics in PyeongChang, although he did not appear in a game.
"What we see in Will is a real physical defenseman [with] great footwork," Botterill said. "Like all defensemen, there's an adjustment to pro hockey and you have to be patient with him in that regard. But you look at his track record before he went to St. Cloud, he went to the USHL at the end of his high school year and I think that really set him up for success at St. Cloud.
"We're looking at the same situation here. Get him to the American Hockey League, get him playing games down year, and hopefully that sets him up for success in pros moving forward."
Botterill said the team is still pursuing free agents, both at the collegiate level and overseas.