A lower-body injury kept Casey Mittelstadt out of the Buffalo Sabres' lineup Friday night against the New York Rangers, but the rookie center is making progress toward a return.
Mittelstadt, 20, practiced Thursday after sitting out a win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday and participated in the Sabres' morning skate in KeyBank Center ahead of Friday's game against the Rangers. However, he was not included in line rushes or power-play drills.
Housley added that Mittelstadt is getting close to returning and will join the Sabres for their upcoming road trip. In Mittelstadt's absence, Evan Rodrigues centered the Sabres' second line and C.J. Smith was in the lineup for a second consecutive game.
"It's tough," Mittelstadt said following the morning skate. "You never want to be watching, but I think it's a good learning experience for me. How many guys go their whole career without getting hurt? It's something to learn. Learn the whole rehab situation and getting back at it."
Mittelstadt joined Nathan Beaulieu and Matt Hunwick, both of whom will be healthy scratches, for additional ice time following the morning skate. He had appeared in every game this season and these are the first games he has lost to injury since making his debut last March.
Additionally, Mittelstadt has not dealt with an injury since his senior year of high school in 2017. He was drafted eighth overall by the Sabres that June and played one season at the University of Minnesota before beginning his professional career.
He played 16 minutes, 20 seconds in a 3-1 loss to Winnipeg Sunday and left Tuesday's morning skate early with what Housley called a "little bang." Housley chose to utilize his fourth line more with Mittelstadt unable to play against the New York Islanders.
Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson played 16:37 and 17:50, respectively, and the latter scored a third-period insurance goal in the 3-1 win. Girgensons, Larsson and Kyle Okposo controlled the puck in the offensive zone for most of their shifts. On the other hand, the line of Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson and Smith struggled.
The situation also forced Housley to break up what was an effective second line of Mittelstadt, Conor Sheary and Sam Reinhart. Prior to suffering the injury, Mittelstadt was on the top-power play unit and scored a power-play goal in a 3-1 win over Detroit on Saturday.
Rodrigues was bumped up to replace Mittelstadt on Tuesday, and Rasmus Ristolainen was moved back to the top power play during practice Thursday.
Mittelstadt has eight goals among 19 points with a minus-5 rating in 55 games this season.
"Casey's close, but he's still day to day," Housley said of Mittelstadt.
The Sabres will soon decide whether they will add defenseman Casey Nelson to the roster. Nelson, 26, can remain with Rochester on his conditioning assignment for up to six more days as he works his way back from an upper-body injury that sidelined him since Dec. 4.
Following the assignment, Nelson must be added to the Sabres' roster -- which would require a corresponding roster move -- or the team can attempt to pass him through waivers so he can remain with the Amerks, though he would likely be claimed.
Nelson has one goal among five points with a plus-6 rating in 22 games for the Sabres this season and had one assist in three games with Rochester entering Friday's game.
Sabres prospect Andrew Oglevie returned to Rochester's lineup Friday after missing the previous 29 games because of a concussion. The 23-year-old signed a two-year, entry-level contract with Buffalo following Notre Dame's loss in the national championship last April.
Oglevie had 15 goals among 39 points in 36 games for the Fighting Irish and scored two preseason goals with the Sabres this fall. He entered Friday with one goal in 14 games for the Amerks.
Cliff Pu, the 20-year-old winger traded by the Sabres in the Jeff Skinner deal last offseason, was demoted to Carolina's ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades, after scoring one goal with five assists in 42 AHL games for Charlotte.
Pu, a third-round Sabres draft pick in 2016, entered Friday with one goal and two assists in three games for Florida.