Since his shaky pre-season there has been a debate about Casey Mittelstadt, and if he is ready for a top-6 role in the NHL.
While it is clear that maybe he was a little overhyped heading into the 2018-19 season, and he hasn’t been putting up the points, Mittelstadt has shown why he is going to be a dynamic offensive player in the NHL in years to come.
He may not have gotten off to the hot start that Sabres fans thought he would, and that may in part be due to unrealistic expectations but nonetheless Mittelstadt hasn’t been able to put up points 10 games into the 2018-19 season (2 assists).
If you look solely at his numbers it is easy to be disappointed and say that Mittelstadt isn’t ready for the second line center role, but if you go back and look at his game closely, he has shown his potential.
Bad Puck Luck
Through 10 games Mittelstadt hasn’t scored a single goal, but it’s not for a lack of trying… numerous times Mittelstadt has hit the iron, and has come close to scoring two highlight reel goals if not for the post or crossbar.
In this chance Mittelstadt clearly has Jones beat, but the post and the crossbar bail the San Jose goalie out.
The other thing you want to look at on this chance is where Mittelstadt is located… he is in prime scoring position with no one around him, and is able to use his great release.
Mittelstadt knows where to go to generate prime scoring chances, and has been doing so all season long. If he keeps this up, his luck will change and the puck will start going in.
I made a mistake on the Mittelstadt shot image. The one I posted previously included last season.
Here is the shot locations for just this season (prior to October 20th)…
Location – Great
Quantity – Need more pic.twitter.com/S8pzXEJ5kv
— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) October 19, 2018
Looking at the above tweet you can see that a majority of Mittelstadt’s shots have come from prime scoring location.
If he can keep this trend, while also being able to create a higher quantity of shots Mittelstadt will get the monkey off his back and the goal scoring will start to come.
Mittelstadt’s Offensive Game
This point piggy backs off my last point.
He may not have the points, but watching Mittelstadt with the puck on his stick has been extremely impressive at times this season.
Throughout the first nine games Mittelstadt has taken the puck into the opposing team’s zone, gotten the puck into prime scoring position and fired a shot attempt.
At times I’ve caught myself saying “I wish Eichel would do what Casey just did.”
It hasn’t been every game, but in a majority of the games Mittelstadt has taken it on himself to carry the puck and create a shot attempt.
Just look at the examples below:
At 19-years-old, he shows the confidence to take it upon himself to take the puck across the opposing team’s blueline and create a shot attempt.
Again, it may not be every time he’s on the ice but these are just a few examples that show Mittelstadt’s ability with the puck on his stick. If he can continue to do this on a consistent basis then he will see the puck start to go in.
The other side of Mittelstadt’s offensive game is his passing ability. He has great vision, and can pass the puck with amazing accuracy.
He may only have two assists on the season, but with his passing capabilities and the fact that his line with Okposo and Rodrigues have looked impressive in the last two games I would expect that number to go up quickly.
In the above sequence Mittelstadt feeds Reinhart in the slot, in prime scoring position. It looks like a simple play but Casey puts the pass in a perfect spot allowing Reinhart to get off a quick shot (something that we haven’t seen from the Sabres often).
These are just a few examples of Mittelstadt showing his offensive potential.
He hasn’t been perfect on offence by any means, and his production isn’t there but he definitely has shown flashes of his potential, and should still be viewed as a potential game changing player in the future for the Sabres.
My last point on Mittelstadt relates to the rest of his game.
As a 19-year-old I expected him to struggle immensely on the defensive side, and figured he would shy away from physicality. But for the most part he has surprised me in these aspects.
He isn’t a great defensive player, but he looks to be further along then I suspected. Mittelstadt isn’t caught out of position as frequently as many offensive minded rookies are, which is a positive sign heading into the future.
Another thing I’ve seen from Mittelstadt, particularly since the Vegas loss, is that he isn’t shying away from the physicality of NHL hockey. In that Vegas game Mittelstadt was getting under the Golden Knights’ skin, and even started a scrum after one of his shots.
Mittelstadt is starting to use his 201 lbs. body, and Sabres fans should be encouraged by what they’re seeing from the 2017 8th overall selection.
It’s going to take some time, and the developmental curve for every player is different… and I know it’s easy to hit the panic button (especially as a Buffalo sports fan) but Mittelstadt is developing, and if he continues to play the way he has been the points will come.