BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Upon passing a physical and signing his three-year NHL contract, Casey Mittelstadt's first order of business as a member of the Buffalo Sabres proved to be a perk on Tuesday.
The 19-year-old was invited out for lunch with Sabres star Jack Eichel.
''It's definitely something pretty cool for a kid like me,'' Mittelstadt said. ''It's good to know he's excited I'm here and he's interested in getting to know me.''
If the 21-year-old Eichel is the undisputed face of the Sabres, Mittelstadt is being counted upon to be a valuable addition in the struggling franchise's bid to rebuild with youth. He was selected with the No. 8 pick in the draft last year, and signed with Buffalo a little more than a week after the playmaking center completed his freshman season at the University of Minnesota.
Mittelstadt is scheduled to join the Sabres for practice on Wednesday and expected to make his NHL debut the following day, when Buffalo hosts the Detroit Red Wings in a game between two teams already eliminated from playoff contention.
The Sabres have six games left, and are in jeopardy of finishing last in the overall standings for the third time in five years.
Mittelstadt was mostly unfamiliar with the Sabres' past woes while growing up a Wild fan in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
Over the past year, he's become more familiar with the focus being placed on the team's youngsters to restore winning to a team that's not made the playoffs in seven years.
''I think I can feel the struggle a little bit,'' Mittelstadt said. ''And obviously, there's a big emphasis being put on the young guys to turn it around here.''
Mittelstadt had 11 goals and 19 assists in 34 games and was selected to the Big Ten all-freshmen team this year.
The Golden Gophers' season ended last week, when they were on the wrong end of numerous scenarios in being eliminated from competing in the NCAA Tournament.
Mittelstadt took a few days to weigh his options before electing to turn pro last weekend. He said Minnesota coach Don Lucia's decision to step down after 19 seasons had little influence on his decision.
''I wanted to make sure the decision I came to that I'm both feet in,'' he said. ''And it came up over and over again that both my feet were into go pro.''
Buffalo has become a familiar setting for Mittelstadt. He attended the NHL pre-draft rookie combine in the city last spring.
He made yet a bigger splash in representing the bronze-medal-winning United States team at the World Junior hockey championship, which was held in Buffalo three months ago. Mittelstadt was selected as the 10-nation tournament's MVP after finishing tied for first in scoring with 11 points (four goals, seven assists).
The inkling of one day playing for the Sabres in the same arena briefly crossed Mittelstadt's mind during the world juniors, though he was more focused on representing the U.S. and returning to Minnesota.
''Obviously, things didn't turn out the way we wanted them to this year,'' Mittelstadt said of the Gophers' season ending.
''But when the time came and I had some time to sit down and think and talk with my family, I think this was the right decision.''
By adding Mittelstadt, the Sabres demoted forward Justin Bailey to Rochester.
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