BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Sabres locked up two youngsters considered integral to their rebuilding plans by re-signing center Casey Mittelstadt and defenseman Henri Jokiharju on Thursday to three-year contracts each worth $7.5 million.
Both were restricted free agents and their signings leave Buffalo focused on getting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin under contract before training camp opens in about three weeks. Dahlin is also a restricted free agent. He’s been the Sabres top offensive defenseman since being selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft.
The 22-year-old Mittelstadt was a 2017 first-round pick out of Minnesota and overcame early career inconsistencies to finish third on the Sabres with 10 goals and fourth with 22 points in 41 games last season. That was a jump from 2019-20 when his struggles led to a demotion to the minors.
Used sparingly to open last season, Mittelstadt saw his production jump when he gained additional playing time after coach Ralph Krueger was fired in mid-March. He was replaced by Don Granato, who has taken over on a full-time basis.
Overall, Mittelstadt has 27 goals and 61 points in 155 career NHL games.
Mittelstadt is considered part of a young core the Sabres hope to build around following an offseason in which the team traded forward Sam Reinhart and with captain Jack Eichel’s status uncertain. The Sabres are attempting to trade Eichel due to a rift over how to treat a neck injury that has sidelined him since March.
Minus Eichel, Mittelstadt would be counted upon to take over as Buffalo’s second-line center, behind Dylan Cozens, who is coming off a promising rookie season.
Jokiharju had three goals and eight points in 46 games for the Sabres last season. Overall, he has seven goals and 23 points in 115 games since Buffalo acquired him in a trade with Chicago in July 2019.
The 22-year-old from Finland is expected to play a larger role on a new-look blue line after Buffalo traded veteran Rasmus Ristolainen to Philadelphia and lost Jake McCabe to free agency this summer.
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