Many Buffalo Sabres fans rejoiced when the team announced that Casey Mittelstadt had signed yesterday. Surely, the youngster brings a glimmer of hope to the organization’s future, and with all the hype surrounding him, it’s easy to get swept up.
I hate to be the downer, but Sabres fans: keep your expectations in check. Mittelstadt alone will not be the savior of this team immediately. (Yes, I said the same thing when Jack Eichel came to Buffalo, too.)
A 19-year-old kid who just finished his first season of college hockey may or may not be able to make the immediate jump to success at the NHL level. Maybe he’ll get some ice time this season, maybe he’ll even score here or there -- but don’t expect him to be the sole factor bringing Buffalo to the top next season.
For now, let’s focus on the rest of this season. Mittelstadt is joining the Sabres today and is expected to make his NHL debut on Thursday when Buffalo hosts the Detroit Red Wings. He’ll practice with the team for the first time Wednesday. There are all of six games left in this season, and it’s about letting Mittelstadt get his feet wet, in hopes of putting him in a good position to start next season in the NHL.
While it’d be a dream to see Mittelstadt play alongside Eichel in these last few games, it’s not likely to happen that way. He will get to play center, but it seems more probable that it will be alongside players like Johan Larsson, Jason Pominville or Benoit Pouliot. Obviously, this will skew his performance to some extent, so Sabres fans should perhaps pull back on their expectations just a tad.
Don’t put too much pressure on this kid who just finished his freshman year of college, but at the same time, remember: he chose to be here; he wants to be here. Mittelstadt could have returned to the University of Minnesota and continued playing hockey there, but he had the leverage and clout to pull for an NHL contract, and he got it.
The 19-year-old registered 30 points (11-19) in 34 games this season with Minnesota, good for second on the team and earning him Big Ten All-Freshman team honors. Of course, he also had a successful tournament at the 2018 IIHF World Juniors, where he was named MVP after putting up 11 points (4-7) in seven games.
So being realistic, what will Mittelstadt bring to Buffalo this season - and in the future? His speed is certainly a factor to look for. GM Jason Botterill was quoted in The Buffalo News regarding the rookie’s “hockey sense and skill level.”
EliteProspects calls Mittelstadt “an electric offensive presence” and a “complete player,” noting his puck skills, creativity and awareness. All excellent attributes - which would certainly flourish more among players not named Larsson, Pouliot and Pominville, but players like Eichel, O’Reilly and Reinhart.
As Botterill has said, these last few games are about getting Mittelstadt into the fold and putting him in a good position to start NEXT season at center. While I’m not sure putting him with some of your third- and fourth-line guys is the way to do it, I’m also not the Sabres’ GM.
Sabres fans, take it all with a grain of salt and enjoy watching him in these last few games, but just keep in mind: he’s 19, just finished his freshman year in college, and won’t be playing among the elite players on Buffalo just yet -- so it’s okay if he doesn’t jump right into crazy offensive production or flashy plays right off the bat at the NHL level.
Casey Mittelstadt is a glimmer of hope for the Sabres’ future -- we just need to get there.