Sabres general manager Jason Botterill and coach Ralph Krueger brought Casey Mittelstadt into KeyBank Center on Sunday to inform him he was being assigned to Rochester and talk him through the steps ahead.
Immediately, Botterill said, Mittelstadt turned his attention toward making the necessary improvements to return to the NHL.
"It's always an emotional conversation when you're talking to somebody about this, but what I liked was his initial respect for the American Hockey League level and the excitement of going and playing," Botterill said Monday.
Botterill said the decision to assign Mittelstadt to Rochester was made to ensure the 21-year-old center would get the necessary playing time to continue his development. Mittelstadt had been scratched for three of the team's past four games after appearing in each of the first 30 games of the season.
He will now have the chance to be an impact player on a nightly basis for a team in the thick of its own playoff race. The Amerks are 13-1-1 in their past 15 games and have ascended to first place in the North Division.
"We see his hockey sense. We see his skill level and we've seen glimpses of it. We just have to see it on a more consistent basis," Botterill said. "He's a very motivated young player who has a lot of aspirations.
"… We need to get away from the discussion of whether he should be in the lineup or how many minutes. We want him to be an impact player, and that's where we think developing a few elements of his game in Rochester right now is going to be beneficial for him and our organization."
Krueger echoed Botterill's assessment.
"Casey has the opportunity now in Rochester with a little more time and space to work on these things and to get more reps, more minutes to continue to work on his habits," he said.
"He's a very young player, there's a lot we ask for somebody who's eventually going to be an important piece of our team as a centerman in the National Hockey League. We just all found for his development this is the right place to be."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Ralph Krueger
Mittelstadt will have the benefit of working with a familiar face in Amerks coach Chris Taylor, who spent the first month and a half of the season filling in as an assistant in Buffalo while Don Granato recovered from an illness.
The Sabres have been happy with how players have developed under Taylor's tutelage, including a pair of notable examples in forwards Victor Olofsson and Rasmus Asplund. After coming to North America and spending last season in Rochester, both have become mainstays in the Sabres lineup. Olofsson leads the rookie scoring race.
"Chris has now seen some of Casey's best games," Botterill said. "You look at the West Coast trip earlier on in the year, and he's also seen when Casey's struggled. I think just having that knowledge is certainly going to help him out in getting Casey back up to the National Hockey League."
Mittelstadt, meanwhile, arrived for his first day in Rochester with a positive attitude.
"I think a lot of people are texting me and stuff saying sorry and things like that," he told reporters following practice with the Amerks. "I'm not upset about it. I'm ready to be here and I'm happy to be able to just come down and play."
Sabres congratulate the Bills
Count Jack Eichel among those who were thrilled to see the Buffalo Bills clinch a playoff berth with their 17-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
Eichel, wearing a Bills cap at his stall in the Sabres dressing room, said he was happy for the city, for Bills and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and for some of the Bills players he's gotten to know over time, a group that includes quarterback Josh Allen.
He then began to draw parallels between what the Bills have accomplished and what the Sabres are trying to build under Krueger.
"We have a lot we still have to accomplish," he said. "I think it's big for us to try and build an identity as a team. You can see their identity. I think when you look at their group and you look at each guy through the roster, it really stands out how much the team means to them. They've obviously identified their strengths and they really play to them. I mean, their defense is tremendous, they take care of the football, they run, they do all of the little things well. It adds up to wins. I mean, 10 wins in the NFL isn't easy and they've just had a tremendous season. You can't say enough good things about them. I couldn't be happier for the city to have them in the playoffs.
"We're trying to build our identity as much as possible. I think we've identified what our strengths and weaknesses are and for us to be successful in this league, what we need to do on a night in and night out basis. It's really important. But, football, there's a lot of similarities to hockey. You do the little things well and all the little details add up over the course of a game. You see how they have success doing all the little details, all the fundamentals, and I think when we do that sort of thing we have a lot of success as well."
Off to Toronto
The Sabres open a two-game road trip in Toronto on Tuesday night. It will be the third meeting of the season for the two rivals, who split a home-and-home set in November.
The game will be televised on NBCSN, or you can listen to Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.