CHICAGO - As big as Friday night was for the prospects in attendance for the NHL Draft at United Center, it also held significance for Jason Botterill. The eighth overall selection would be Botterill's first as an NHL general manager.
Luckily for him, there wasn't much suspense. While the first seven picks may have surprised some, he felt they went nearly exactly as his staff had expected, perhaps save for one minor surprise. But once Botterill and the Sabres were on the clock, there wasn't even need for discussion.
The Sabres used the eighth pick to select center Casey Mittelstadt out of Eden Prairie High School and Green Bay of the USHL.
"Between [picks] seven and eight, you're excited but we were also very confident," Botterill said. "There was no discussion. We felt Casey was the player that we wanted to select at that position there."
Read: Mittelstadt "honored" to be selected by Buffalo
Mittelstadt seemed to check several of the boxes Botterill was looking for. The GM praised the young forward's skill and ability to play with pace, along with his ability to play both at center and on the wing. Plus, personnel in Green Bay and with USA Hockey had nothing but good things to say about him.
Video: Thomas Mittelstadt on his son Casey being drafted
Even Mittelstadt's unique season in 2016-17, in which he chose to return to Eden Prairie for his senior season bookended by stints with Green Bay, impressed Botterill.
"It's someone who's strong with their own convictions," Botterill said. "Yeah, he made a bold choice to go back but he also found a way to also be at Green Bay at the start of the season and at the end of the season.
"You can tell he's certainly passionate, he's certainly competitive in whatever sports he likes to play in. It certainly came across not only at the combine but at all the other interviews and interactions."
Botterill was asked how far off Mittelstadt, who is committed to the University of Minnesota for next season, might be from playing in the NHL, and he left the subject open.
"I remember when we sat down with Matt Murray talking about maybe after three years you're going to be maybe in a position to play in the National Hockey League, and now after three years pro he has two Stanley Cups," Botterill said.
"I think it's a situation where, yeah, going to Minnesota, it's a great program. You talk about strength training, it's a Big 10 school there, he's going to get that there. Plus you're going to play an up-tempo style ... I think it's a great spot for him and a great fit. We'll see how his development goes."
Here's a bit more from Botterill to recap Day 1 of the Draft:
Sabres discussed moving up, not down
Botterill said there were talks at the table about potentially moving up in the Draft, but when they arrived at No. 8 they were comfortable enough with Mittelstadt to not consider trading back.
"I think there was good conversations going on," he said. "We were debating whether we should move up in the Draft. Once we got to that point, we didn't look at any opportunities to move back, we felt very comfortable picking Casey."
Sabres will stick with 'best player' strategy
Just because they took a center in round one, don't expect the Sabres to force the issue and draft a defenseman early on Saturday. Botterill reiterated his philosophy of taking the best player available to stockpile assets.
"As we've talked about before, if there's a fit we're going to certainly make a selection for a defenseman, but we're not going to force it," he said. "I don't like saying this word when you're talking about hockey players, but when you're trying to get the best assets, whether it's making trades in the future, if there's another good centerman tomorrow when we're ready to pick we're going to probably select him.
"If it's close then we'll probably lean toward a defenseman, but if there's a significant difference then we'll certainly pick the best player and try to develop that player. You never know when you can use that pick to acquire an NHL defenseman or an NHL goalie in the future."
Where Buffalo will pick tomorrow
Here's a rundown of Buffalo's Day 2 picks:
Pick No. 37
Pick No. 54 (from Minnesota)
Pick No. 89 (from Washington)
Pick No. 99
Pick No. 192