Sports: Buffalo Sabres sign former first-round pick Casey Mittelstadt to three-year deal

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The Buffalo Sabres have reached an agreement with one of their restricted free agents, signing Casey Mittelstadt to a three-year deal. The contract comes with an average annual value of $2.5M, a nice boost for a player that still hasn’t quite lived up to his high draft pedigree.

a hockey game in the snow: Buffalo Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports Buffalo Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt

Mittelstadt, 22, was the eighth overall pick in 2017, selected a few spots ahead of young players like Martin Necas and Nick Suzuki who have already established themselves as key parts with their respective teams. In Buffalo, Mittelstadt has experienced the same struggles that almost everyone else on the roster has, posting just 61 points in 155 games. In 2019-20 he was sent to the Rochester Americans for half the season to work on his game, as it was not quite consistent enough to help the NHL squad.

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The encouraging part about Mittelstadt, and why this three-year contract may look like quite a bargain very quickly, is his performance under head coach Don Granato. When Granato took over partway through last season, Mittelstadt had just one goal and five points in 13 games. He was seeing inconsistent minutes and not regularly lining up at center. That changed under the new head coach, and the young forward took a huge step forward, scoring nine goals and 17 points in 28 games through the end of the season. In those matches, he averaged more than 17 minutes a night and played center full-time.

If Mittelstadt can continue to play up to his draft pedigree under Granato, the Sabres have a true building block to help turn things around. The young forward has outstanding puck skills and playmaking ability, but seemed completely lost at times under the previous regimes. The team is obviously not giving up on him, investing in a multi-year deal ahead of what could be a breakout season.

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The $2.5M cap charge brings the Sabres a little closer to the cap floor, with Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju still to sign. The big question is Jack Eichel, though, as a trade would leave the Sabres scrambling to add salary if a similar number – $10M – didn’t come back the other way.

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