A lackluster preseason and relatively quiet start which has lacked the flashiness fans may have been hoping for, there’s been some murmuring within the fanbase of initial disappointment with the way Mittelstadt has looked to begin the 2018-19 season.
Despite the ridiculousness of that frustration with a * checks notes * 19-year-old eight games into his NHL career, I decided to watch each of his shifts against the Rangers to see if there was any actual cause for concern.
Spoiler Alert: There isn’t.
*To avoid writing MIttelstadt 1000 times in this post I’m going to abbreviate with CM
To begin his night CM showcases his puck possession skills and slides a clean pass to the slot where Zemgus Girgensons is able to get a quick shot off. Simply put, goals are scored in the slot area from the hash marks in, so having a center that can regularly get pucks into that area for his teammates is one of the most important skill sets for a center to have.
CM is known best for his offensive prowess, but what stood out to me most during this game was his strong defensive play.
Here he pressures the puck carrier on the boards, forcing him to make a blind pass into the slot where Tage Thompson is positioned. Even better, as soon as the puck in turned over, CM takes off for a potential offensive rush if only Thompson had been able to hit him with a clean pass.
Here Casey Nelson steps up on the Rangers forward inside the blue line. CM reads this properly and fills in the area that Nelson would typically cover. Once the puck is sent in behind the net by the Rangers, CM retrieves it and instead of chipping it off the glass for a likely neutral zone turnover, he reads the double team the Rangers have on him and hits an unguarded Nelson with a drop pass that leads to a Sabres breakout and continued possession.
Back in the offensive zone on the power-play, CM receives a pass from Rasmus Dahlin, skates up around the circle and into the slot for a high danger shooting attempt. Again, players with a nose for high danger shooting areas are bound to be successful.
After making a mistake with a poor pass on the power-play regroup, CM chases after the puck, wins it back on the boards and makes a slick pass to Ristolainen at center ice, leading the Conor Sheary’s first goal of the game.
On the forecheck CM covers the easy pass on the boards, forcing the puck carrier to make a more difficult pass up past the blue line where Scandella is waiting to knock the puck off the stick of the new attempted puck carrier.
On the breakout, instead of hanging out a few feet away, CM steps in to help his winger retrieve the puck on the boards and push the puck back to his defenseman for a clean outlet.
This doesn’t look like much, but CM does an excellent job of sticking with his man in the slot area, preventing any opportunity for the Rangers to work the puck into a high danger area.
In the neutral zone CM steps up at the red line and forces the Rangers winger to dump the puck sooner than he had planned, leading to an icing.
CM did have one significant mistake where he got caught puck watching instead of catching the open Ranger rushing into the slot for a point blank shot which, luckily for CM, fell victim to one of Carter Hutton’s incredible saves in this game.
Of his 17 shifts against the Rangers, Mittelstadt did something of significance in all but 3 or 4 shifts, and made only 1 serious mistake that could’ve led to a goal against. You’ll take that every night from a rookie.
What he’s lacked in flash, he’s made up for in solid fundamentals and superb vision offensively and defensively, causing turnovers and creating opportunities for himself and his teammates in high danger areas. Once he fully adjusts to the NHL game, Casey MIttelstadt should be a serious force for the Sabres in both the offensive and defensive zone.