In a significant, albeit not overly surprising move, the Buffalo Sabres have announced that center Casey Mittelstadt has been reassigned to the AHL’s Rochester Americans. This is the first career demotion for Mittelstadt, who has never played a game in the AHL. The 21-year-old has four goals and five assists in 31 games with the Sabres this season.
Mittelstadt was selected by Buffalo with the eighth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft out of Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota. After playing the following season with the University of Minnesota and dominating at the World Junior Championship, Mittelstadt joined the Sabres and made his NHL debut at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. Mittelstadt got off to a strong start in the pros with five points in his first six games. However, he has failed to build on that early success. Mittelstadt recorded 25 points in 77 games with the Sabres, a passable rookie season but not what the team was expecting. Mittelstadt also struggled with the defensive aspects of the game at the top level. He has started similarly this season, posting just nine points through 31 games thus far and the worst possession numbers of any Sabres forward.
At this point, a demotion had become inevitable. Mittelstadt’s ice time has been dwindling and he was a healthy scratch in three of the Sabres’ past four games. While GM Jason Botterill has clearly not been eager to send the first draft pick of his tenure in Buffalo to the AHL, new head coach Ralph Krueger does not share the same commitment to the young pivot. Poor optics aside, it is a better move to send Mittelstadt to the minors where he can work on his game rather than keep him in the NHL where his ice time is no longer guaranteed.
Additionally, it is about to become an embarrassment of riches in Rochester. Mittelstadt is joining a team that leads the AHL’s Eastern Conference and has picked up points in all but four of their 26 games so far this season, with just one loss since November 1st. Mittelstadt will be able to focus on improving his game without having to worry about carrying the Americans, who are receiving a balanced effort game in and game out. There is no indication of how long Mittelstadt will remain in Rochester, but until he earns his recall back to Buffalo, it’s hard to imagine the farm team not continuing their run of dominance.