After some big trades and other roster signings, the Buffalo Sabres 2018-19 roster is starting to take shape. With the departure of Ryan O’Reilly, there is a big gap to fill with the 2nd line center position.
Look no further than rookie centerman, Casey Mittelstadt, to fill this role. The 8th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is looking to continue his development while playing his first full season in the NHL.
Mittelstadt put up good numbers with the Sabres with five points (one goal, four assists) in 6 games. While only playing in 6 games, Mittelstadt showed why he may be the steal of the 2017 draft and has shown a lot of potential over the past year since getting drafted.
In the 2018 World Junior Championship, which was played in Buffalo, Mittelstadt was by far the best player in the entire tournament and was awarded MVP. Although he had many highlights each game, there was one play that was noticed by the whole hockey world.
It has been a long time since Buffalo has had a player with a skill set similar to that of Mittelstadt, who possesses great hockey IQ, stellar skating, elite vision, and of course world-class hands. Former Sabre Maxim Afinogenov had some of these attributes, but a better comparison might be Alexander Mogilny.
Mittelstadt possesses the same electric presence every shift, similar to what Mogilny brought to Buffalo during his six years with the Sabres. If Mogilny is a little too far back for some fans, a current NHL comparison as far as playing style goes could be Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames. The style of play combined with the elite skating and hands that Gaudreau showcases reminds me of what Mittelstadt has shown during his development.
As far as expectations go for the 19-year-old, Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets comes to mind as a benchmark for Mittelstadt. Although Connor was technically in his 2nd season as a pro, it was his first full season in the NHL. With 57 points (31 goals, 26 assists) in 76 games, Connor was a big contributor on the 2nd line for the Cup contending Jets. Even while playing different positions, and the teams each player is on are much different, Mittelstadt could have a similar year when it comes to production.
My predictions as a typical Buffalo sports fan are definitely on the more optimistic side, but the pieces are starting to come together for this team. If Mittelstadt and Jack Eichel can both stay healthy for a full season, I have Mittelstadt reaching 67 points and taking home the Calder Memorial Trophy for the league’s Rookie of the Year. Yes, this prediction is setting the bar pretty high, but if things go our way, there is no reason not to consider this possibility.