It was just four months ago that Casey Middlestadt, a native of Edina, Minnesota found himself taking part in the annual World Junior Championships which this year took place at the KeyBank Centre in Buffalo.
Further more, he did this while playing for Team USA and on a National Hockey League stage for the first time in his young and upcoming career following years of hard work, determination and dedication.
On Monday, the 19-year-old’s life changed significantly and most certainly for the better when he agreed to sign a three-year, entry-level contract with the Buffalo Sabres.
A short time after having reached this agreement, Middlestadt, the organization’s top prospect, announced he will part ways with the Minnesota Gophers who he has spent the past season with. Middlestadt is a former first round pick (8th overall) from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft which of course is due to his star-studded status which he has only continued to grow with each passing day in efforts to reach the bigs.
It is worth noting that the change isn’t the only factor that played a role in his decision to leave. The two sides reportedly came to terms a little over a week ago after Minnesota had concluded their season by failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
With that in mind, this becomes the third loss to the Gophers in just one week as they lost defensemen Ryan Lindgren to the New York Rangers last week while their head coach Lucia Don also stepped down after 19 seasons on the job.
As it stands right now, Mittelstadt is scheduled to join the Sabres on Tuesday while general manger Jason Botterill said he expects the World Junior MVP to make his NHL debut Thursday against Detroit.
In continuation from the Sabres front office executive, he said he was impressed by how Mittelstadt excelled at the world juniors. As far as his statement went when speaking with the media about the competition in January, Botterill said, “With it being here in Buffalo, there was that added pressure. And I think you saw a player who instead of succumbing to the pressure, actually thriving in that type of environment.”
Over that time period, Middlestadt and the Americans led the way as he recorded 11 points for the bronze-medal finalists while scoring seven goals through a total of four games played, one of which took place outdoors at New Era Field where he was said to be a fan favourite when taking on Team Canada.
As if that wasn’t enough convincing for you, Mittelstadt was also named Top Forward and a tournament all-star alongside fellow American teammate Kieffer Bellows who led the World Juniors with a total of nine goals scored.
Prior to Monday night’s affair against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, Botterill also told reporters that he hoped Mittlestadt would consider representing the United States at the world hockey championships in Denmark in May since the Sabres will find themselves sitting out of post-season contention come early April.
As for other achievements, Mittelstadt was named to the Big Ten all-freshmen team this year as a result of his 11 goals scored and 19 assists recorded in a total of 34 regular season games played.
This is not the only transaction Buffalo has made in recent days as they have also added on defenceman Will Borgen who elected to skip his senior season at St. Cloud State to sign a three-year contract with the Sabres on Sunday.
If and when Middlestadt joins the team as expected this week, he will use up the first year of his contract this season. However, he would not be eligible to be exposed for selection in an expansion draft in 2020, should the NHL approve Seattle’s bid to join the league for the 2020-21 season.
Given where we are in the regular season, the Sabres now sit tight with just six games to play and therefore will not be allowed to demote Mittelstadt to the minor leagues this spring due to his short stay upon signing his first professional deal.
Middlestadt is looked at as a centreman who can produce both offensively and defensively while making that extra splash to push his team to the very fullest of their potential. He is someone who creates highlight-reel plays in big situations as we have seen it from him before and ares set to see plenty more.
Yes, Buffalo has not made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a franchise worst seven years, however, he can be the fix in this situation for a brighter future ahead as the Sabres are in jeopardy of finishing last in the overall standings for the third time in five seasons.
As for the conference standings, Buffalo sits just under the Ottawa Senators who have also struggled to put a winning team on the ice for majority of this season which could mean head coach changes could be on the horizon this offseason amongst other swaps.
In a statement from Sabres alternate captain Ryan O’Reilly with regards to the signing of Middlestadt, he said, “I think he can make an impact right away. This is a good look. It’s only going to make our team better.”
“You watch his little plays, his shiftiness, the way he moves with the puck. Those little plays are definitely way beyond most guys’ [ability]. Hopefully I get to play with him.”
The Sabres have scheduled off-days in place for Tuesday and Wednesday and will look to reconvene for practice before finishing the final stretch where they will welcome Middlestadt with open arms when he arrives to take on the Red Wings in his NHL debut on Thursday.