BUFFALO Nick Jensen Jersey , 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 Thomas Vanek Jersey , 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.— A team from the West has not won the Stanley Cup the previous three seasons, the conference’s longest drought in the 13-year salary cap era.Before the Washington Capitals won it last year after Pittsburgh claimed consecutive championships, the West was usually the best, winning seven of 10 titles. Four teams seem to have the best shot to prevent it from being a four-year run without a Stanley Cup. And perhaps a few more have an outside chance.“The West is like loaded right now,” Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said. “It feels like anybody could not only make the playoffs, there’s going to be some unbelievable top teams that don’t make the playoffs.”Winnipeg is stacked with talent from up front to the back and in net. And, the Jets are no longer off the radar after advancing to the conference finals for the first time. Nashville , which was eliminated by Winnipeg in the second round, won the Presidents’ Trophy with an NHL-high 117 points last season and has kept its strong and balanced team together.The Vegas Golden Knights tried to improve their chances of returning to the Stanley Cup Final in their second season by signing free agent center Paul Stastny and acquiring forward Max Pacioretty. The San Jose Sharks made the boldest move, trading for two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson just before the puck dropped for training camp.Poile said the talent-filled conference should be fun for players and fans, but not so much for coaches and the front office.“It’s probably going to be nerve-wracking for us Womens Adam Larsson Jersey ,” Poile said. “If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and I think the West certainly has more than its share of top teams.”WINNIPEGThe Jets, who trailed only Nashville in points last season, have an elite team after years of patiently drafting and developing players. Winnipeg has so much young talent, including 20-year-old wing Patrik Laine, the time to win is now because it is going to be challenging next season to keep the team together and under the cap.“Bring it on,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “There’s excitement. That’s what this all about.”NASHVILLEThe Predators have one of the world’s best goaltender, reigning Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne. He may have the surrounding cast of hungry, experienced talented players to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in its 20 years after leading the league in points.“Obviously things didn’t end up the way we wanted, but winning the regular season doesn’t give you much,” Rinne said.VEGASThe Golden Knights signed three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury to a three-year, $21 million extension over the summer. They can lean on his experience of helping Pittsburgh go from losing the Stanley Cup in 2008 to winning it the next year. Adding the leadership of Pacioretty and Stastny after losing James Neal was a smart move.SAN JOSEThe Sharks’ shot to win it all for the first time in their 27-season history increased the moment they acquired Karlsson, one of the elite players in the NHL.“That trade makes this team look a little bit more dangerous,” captain Joe Pavelski said Cam Talbot Jersey , entering his 13th year with the franchise. “And, a little bit more real.” LOS ANGELES The Kings, who hoisted the Cup in 2012 and 2014, tried to pry open their window to win by bolstering their offense by signing Ilya Kovalchuk. The 35-year-old winger is back in the NHL for the first time since 2013. Los Angeles should be able to compete every night with two-way forward Anze Kopitar, the reigning Selke Trophy winner, and standout goalie Jonathan Quick. ST. LOUIS The Blues missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2011, but they made a series of moves to give some help to forwards Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko along with defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. St. Louis acquired center Ryan O’Reilly in a big deal with Buffalo, signed center Tyler Bozak and winger David Perron, who is back with the Blues for his third stint.EDMONTON Connor McDavid should give the Oilers an opportunity to win any game. The 21-year-old center, though, can’t do it alone as last year proved when the team missed the playoffs despite his career-high 108 points. Edmonton needs winger Milan Lucic and goalie Cam Talbot both to bounce back from lackluster seasons.
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