The Buffalo Sabres have nothing to play for with 7 games remaining. The importance of winning them is insignificant as it does not translate into the next season. For fans, the wish is to close the season and hope GM Jason Botterill is announcing Rasmus Dahlin’s name in June. There has not been anything to be interested in…until now.
Late Monday morning, Bob McKenzie tweeted that forward prospect, Casey Mittelstadt, will join the Buffalo Sabres. After closing out his freshman season with the University of Minnesota, Mittelstadt will sign his entry level contract. Since development camp, the starving Buffalo sports fans observed a highly skilled teenager who was World Junior’s MVP and made jaw-dropping plays in NCAA. With little to care about, the faithful now can view The Hockey’s New’s #1 prospect in a Sabres uniform.
As there have been zero playoff games since 2011, Sabres’ fans are apathetic. Season ticket holders continue to lose money on ticket sale websites as they cannot give them away. Casey Mittelstadt gives the team one last shot at being remotely entertaining. The young man is making a Fucillo-like jump and it is unknown how he will fare. College hockey is incredible but the NHL is a level young players only dream of. With that in mind, do not be surprised if Mittelstadt if he requires further development.
Casey Mittelstadt: A Success So Far
From a Scouting stand point, the former-Golden Gopher possesses natural puck-handling ability and instincts that are rare. After one collegiate campaign, Casey Mittelstadt has proven that he can make the opponent look stupid. The skill set is almost Patrick Kane-lite as he dances with the puck while showing an incredibly quick release, shown below.
With 30 points (11-19) in 34 games, Mittelstadt earned Big Ten All-Freshman Honors. Breaking for the Junior Tournament and missing 4 games, he still managed to be second in points for the Gophers. Some wonder if he would be the leader had he played all 38 games. The team leader (Rem Pitlick) had 31.
About halfway through the college season, Casey Mittelstadt represented the United States in the World Junior Championships. Despite his team settling for bronze, Mittelstadt did not just fit in: he dominated. Throughout the tournament, he was clearly the best individual player on the ice and was relied on heavily. Naturally, Mittelstadt was awarded the MVP of the tournament, leading all in points (11 in 7GP) and was a difference maker.
Moving forward, it is now about taking the next step.
Room to Grow
Producing below a point per game in his freshman season, it is evident that there is another level that Mittelstadt must strive for. On WGR 550 in Buffalo, Pat Micheletti, Minnesota’s Hockey Analyst, joined Howard Simon and Jeremy White to discuss the young forward. Despite making plays that were spectacular, Micheletti described that he must continue to develop physically. There was no shyness to battle but getting stronger would benefit him.
Normal for a 19 year old, Mittelstadt can make an impression with a strong off-season workout. Regardless of improved strength and condition, adjustment to the NHL pace will take time. Division-I hockey is the most competitive amateur league in the sport but the pros are infinitely more challenging. Even with his hockey sense and quickness, mistakes are inevitable. And if he does not use his best assets, the coaching staff may not grant the TOI that fans hope for.
The Immediate Future
As he participates in his first of potentially seven games, Casey Mittelstadt is a work in progress. Fans desire immediate success though it is unfair to expect an instant impact offensively. He is not Jack Eichel. Mittelstadt will be a very good hockey player but he may find himself on the third line for a while.
And that is if he starts in Buffalo out of the gate next season. If management believes it is not worth his time to be a bottom-six forward for the Sabres, Mittelstadt will spend time in the minors. It is not a glamorous role but he will get top-six ice time for the Rochester Americans. Head Coach Chris Taylor has found a way to improve struggling prospect Alexander Nylander so without doubt, he would have an impact on another top talent.
The situation could be worse (though it would not be). Casey Mittelstadt may have decided to be a sophomore for the Golden Gophers. Fans could be questioning whether he becomes a free agent in 3 years.
But he did not. He signed with the Sabres. Mittelstadt will finish the season in Buffalo and potentially earn a spot on Team USA for the World Championships. And there will be adversity. It is how he will grow.
Buffalo Sabres fans are exhausted. The 2017-18 NHL is a season to forget with the last bright spot of their top prospect signing. They will want excitement but there is a good chance of growing pains for Casey Mittelstadt.
So fans: at worst, it will take a year or so to fully develop this young player. At best: he is a fast learner and adds scoring depth to a goal deprived club. In the end, Mittelstadt will be where he needs to be. Just be patient. This kid is going to be a very good hockey player, even if not quite there overnight in the NHL.
For more hot takes on hockey, follow me on Twitter.