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The Curious Case of Casey Mittelstadt

With the 8th pick in the 2017 NHL Draft the Buffalo Sabres select… Casey Mittelstadt!?

 

New Sabres GM, Jason Botterill, made what many considered to be a curious selection in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft. Many die-hard fans were expecting a high potential defenseman to be the Sabres’ first round selection, based on the obvious lack of “blue chip” prospects on the back-end.  To the dismay of many, top rated defensive prospects Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen were already off the board before the Sabres had their chance behind the podium.

Fans saw both Heiskanen and Makar taken at third and fourth overall respectively and it became less clear what Botterill would do. The first thought that came to mind was a possible trade-down to select a high-ceiling wildcard like Timothy Liljegren. Instead he decided to go with the old adage of selecting the best player available in picking Casey Mittelstadt. While the Sabres added a young and talented player to their prospect pool, many fans questioned whether or not it was the right choice. Mittelstadt is listed as a center, which is quite arguably the strongest position of depth within the organization. A majority of these doubtful or pessimistic opinions were quickly addressed by the impressive summer Mittelstadt has had.

Kris Baker had the center from Eden Prairie rated as the third overall prospect leading up to draft day. Opinions on the selection have taken an extremely positive turn. Many fans now consider it a blessing that he “fell” to the Buffalo Sabres at eighth overall. Mittelstadt’s talent level and skill were shown on full display during the World Junior Summer Showcase. In the first four games of the showcase he was able to pick up 8 points (3 goals and 5 assists), which earned him a spotlight interview on NHL Tonight.

Despite the initial uncertainty from the fan base, Boterill had the American centerman in his cross-hairs from the beginning.

“There was no discussion. We felt Casey was the player that we wanted to select at that position.”

The Minnesota native oozes offensive potential. In just about any write-up on him, analysts gush over the dynamic play-making ability he has to offer. One overlooked trait however is Mittelstadt’s work ethic. Too many talented young hockey players try get by on talent alone. There is little doubt that Mittelstadt will put in the effort to take his game to the next level. He is fast, plays the game a couple steps ahead, and shows excellent awareness in all three zones.

Even prior to the WJSS, Mittelstadt was already turning heads at the Sabres’ annual prospects challenge. Mittelstadt led team white to a championship victory in the three-on-three tournament, competing against more established and seasoned prospects in the Sabres’ system. He acquitted himself better than anticipated and left fans wondering when he would make the jump to the big team.

While watching the selection take place on television, one of the biggest things that stood out was his reaction when selected. Based on his demeanor on the stage and after interview(s), Mittelstadt seemed truly excited to become part of the Buffalo Sabres family. When he finally secures a spot on the Sabres’ roster, there is no doubt that he’ll don the blue and gold proudly. The self-proclaimed “Two-way center with offensive upside” enjoyed his time in the Queen City during the NHL Combine.

“Buffalo’s a great place to play” said Mittelstadt, “I loved the city”.

Despite a summer that exceeded expectations, the 18-year-old is still in need of development. A full year playing college hockey will suit him well. Hopefully the next time he’s back in Buffalo he will have gained some strength and additional confidence. The sky is the limit for this star in-the-making.