December 16, 2019
Media Availability (11:45 a.m.)
Jason, the decision to send Casey Mittelstadt [to Rochester]: We’ve seen the way he’s struggled in recent weeks, what was the tipping point in your mind to make the decision yesterday? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
Jason Botterill: I think just with the holiday break coming up here, it’s something with the new coaching staff in here, we wanted to continue to work on Casey and his development. It’s one thing that we’ve loved interacting with Casey, is that he’s been all in and his attitude in practice and after practice with our coaching staff has certainly been really good. But after sitting out a few games, we wanted to make sure that leading into the break that he was playing games and continuing his development from that standpoint. What we’ve tried to create in our organization is development at every level, whether a player’s in Buffalo, Rochester or Cincinnati, they’re getting better and sometimes there needs to be interaction between those two organizations, or different parts of the organization. That’s what we’re doing with Casey right now.
Is some of it Chris Taylor too? I mean, when Tage [Thompson] went down, Chris Taylor sat with him and you could see an immediate improvement, you know, dealing with Chris and the way Chris handled him and the way he has developed players, [Victor] Olofsson and [Rasmus] Asplund and others. Does that have a little bit to do with it too? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)
JB: Well we have 100 percent confidence in Chris and his staff in Rochester. You think, certainly it was a difficult situation at the start of the year with [Don [Granato’s] illness, but to have Chris come up here, work beside Ralph, understand exactly what Ralph’s looking for in players and also too, Chris has now seen some of Casey’s best games — you look at the West Coast trip earlier on in the year — and he’s also seen when Casey’s struggled. I think just having the knowledge is certainly going to help him out in getting Casey back up to the National Hockey League.
What does Casey need to do to be more engaged in the games? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
JB: Well, look, we see his hockey sense, we see his skill level, it’s just there needs to be — and we’ve seen glimpses of it — we just have to see it on a more consistent basis. He’s a very motivated young player who has a lot of aspirations. As an organization, we know he’s going to be a big part of our future and hopefully a part of our second half here and stuff too. To me, it’s just there needs to be more of a consistent level with him. We need to get away from the discussion of whether he should be in the lineup or [getting more] minutes. We want him to be an impact player and that’s where we think developing a few elements of his game in Rochester right now is going to be beneficial for him and our organization.
Is the plan, do you want to send him down for two weeks? Is it TBA? What is the plan? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)
JB: My belief in that, is — I’m not saying it’s right or wrong — is just there’s never a set time. In our discussions with Casey, it’s always an emotional conversation when you’re talking to somebody with this, but what I liked was his initial respect for the American Hockey League level and excitement of going and playing. There’s no set time frame on, ‘Hey, this is when you’re going to come back.’ You have to be all in with the team that you’re playing with and that’s what he’s going to be a part of and we’ll see how things progress from there.
How much was this facilitated by the way Asplund came up here and kind of, you know, grabbed the NHL level in his first shot at it? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
JB: It’s certainly helped out in the fact that we’ve gotten healthy. You look in the last couple of weeks, the fact that Kyle Okposo’s come back into the lineup and to me that line has been outstanding over the last couple of weeks. And then what you see with Asplund is just his versatility, helping out on our PK, being able to play center, being able to play wing and then you see the development of Victor Olofsson. It’s an amazing story where he’s at right now. There was question marks whether he was going to make our team at the start of the year to now continuing to be sort of a staple on our top line. Just having these different players step up, it’s great to see and certainly allowed us to have success over the last week or two.
What is it with Asplund? He was learning pro hockey last year and now he’s ready for the NHL, you know, we’ve seen in his play. What have you seen in him that is made that step for him? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)
JB: Well I think he’s still a player that’s developing every day at the National Hockey League level too. You’re seeing that, so let’s go to a player like Victor Olofsson, you look at the stats, you look at the shots, but I also look at his play, like his down-low play right now and just his strength; I think he’s putting players on his back and doing a lot better job of puck protection and he’s probably learned a lot from Jack [Eichel] from that element. With a guy like Rasmus Aslpund, we’ve always really respected his hockey sense. I think the fact that he’s been getting, you know, there’s that initial adrenaline rush when you come up to the National Hockey League, but he’s been able to sustain the speed and the pace of the game and just his versatility and his smarts, being able to make plays offensively but also be very strong defensively has allowed him to earn extra ice time.
Did you get the sense that when you called — did you talk to Casey face-to-face or did you call? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
No, we brought in Casey yesterday and Ralph and myself sat down and talked with him.
Did you get the sense that there was a certain inevitability, he knew that it was coming? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
JB: No, I couldn’t answer that one with Casey, but I will say what I really enjoyed about the conversation is just that it was immediately get over the frustration and disappointment and instantly, ‘What do I have to do to get back on track? To get back to the National Hockey League? To help achieve things?’ You look at even the past week here; the game against St. Louis, he maybe had one or two shifts in the third period, but he was vocal on the bench, he was very supportive of the teammates and that’s where little elements like that I think are showing a lot of maturity in a young player. The fact that he can sort of get his mind wrapped around ‘What do I have to do to improve in my own game, individual game?’ shows a lot of maturity on his part.
Obviously the goal the last few years is to build the competition; how do you keep it a healthy competition especially on the back end? (John Vogl – The Athletic)
Well, look, it’s something that I think you look at this past week here we’ve had some, what I’ve liked of our development of our team here is one, I think we’ve managed the puck a lot better and then two, when we’ve got the lead in the third period we’ve been able to hang on to it. And I think it’s partially because we’ve had, even though you look at the schedule from Sweden on here, it’s been very difficult, we’ve had players coming in and out of the lineup in the back end and it’s challenging guys there. What I like right now with our mix back there is, hey, if we have the lead, certain players are getting extra ice time. If we’re behind, other players are getting the extra ice time. So there’s certainly, we know we have competitive players back there that all want to be in the lineup, but we also think having this depth has helped us over the last couple of weeks and is certainly going to help us moving forward here.
Is it a coincidence that this decision with Casey happens around, about the same number of NHL games played as it did with Tage? It’s right around that 100 or so area. Is it just a total coincidence?
JB: That one is a total coincidence.
What is Tage’s timetable at this point? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
JB: It’s from a standpoint, he’s still working with our medical staff and continuing from the rehab perspective. Once we have something sort of more set in stone, and we know that’s going to be sort of a solid timeline, we’ll certainly get back to you on that.
You mention guys stepping up, what have you thought of Jack in the last month here? (John Vogl – The Athletic)
JB: It’s certainly been fun to watch, you know. You look at the last couple of weeks, just — it’s all aspects of his game. It’s puck management offensively, it’s obviously the relationship with Sam [Reinhart], chemistry there, but then just elevating Victor Olofsson’s game and then developing [a] relationship there. You’ve seen it now him shooting the puck. We’ve always known about his passing ability and as much as the points and production’s great, you’ve seen him — going back to the St. Louis game — protecting a one-goal lead, he’s taking the faceoff at the end of the game trying to protect that one-goal lead and help us win a game. So in all aspects of the game, he’s playing outstanding and it’s fun to watch.
What’s your concern level about Carter [Hutton]? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
JB: Look, we know — especially from goaltending aspects — players are going to go through different streaks from that element. I love that Linus [Ullmark] has stepped up his game and really taken hold of it. I also look a player like Carter, you look at it a couple weeks ago in Toronto. Certainly it was a very good game. He got us to overtime, he helped us from that standpoint. What I like about Carter is his work ethic, interacting with Mike Bales, working with our staff. I know that he’s going to come out of it and I also know that our players, when he gets back in there, are going to play hard in front of him.
Henri Jokiharju is playing in the last minute of games now. You know, he’s 20 years old. I know you thought he was good when you traded for him, but has he been better than you even thought? Being as trusted in those situations now? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)
JB: Yeah, his development has been probably more rapid that what we first anticipated when we made the trade, and it’s in different elements. I think what I’ve really been impressed with is just his compete down low and his, just his smarts in crucial situations like that. You always think you can make the projection on it, the fact that he played World Juniors, the fact that he played World Championships and had success there, but you don’t know how it’s going to transition, especially as a young player to the National Hockey League. For him to do that so quickly, it’s fun to watch.
Have you sat down with Zach Bogosian and talked about his future? And did he request a trade? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)
JB: Look, I’ve been consistent with this: My conversations with the players is going to stay between the players and myself. All that I’ll say is that we’re ecstatic that Zach is back within our lineup here now. He worked extremely hard coming off the surgery. He’s added another dynamic to our back end there. You look at when he’s out there on our PK and just his physical presence, it’s another point of helping out our group here.