Season Stats: 72 GP | 12 G | 13 A | 25 PTS
Contract Status: One-year, $925,000 cap hit
In reviewing the list of players eligible to be graded this year, Casey Mittelstadt’s situation is one of the more complicated to assess. There’s a delicate balance to consider here. As the team’s de facto second-line center, fans were probably anticipating a little more offensive production, but knowing what we know about the Buffalo Sabres’ winger depth in 2018-19, how much more could have reasonably expected from the rookie?
When a first-year center is saddled with a player like Kyle Okposo as his most prominent right-winger, expecting him to carry a virtual lead anchor for a majority of the year is perhaps unreasonable. Pair that with the fact that his second-most consistent right-winger was an even less effective player in Tage Thompson, and it becomes even more difficult to punish him for his lack of even-strength production. It also wasn’t until late in the year when Mittelstadt started getting consistent time on the team’s top power-play unit (just over 74 minutes spent on the first unit this season).
Taking all of that into account, the most prudent thing to do is to track his growth and see if he was actually able to display improvement despite the aforementioned unfavorable circumstances. His shooting metrics (and how they fluctuated throughout the season) help provide an important piece to the analytical puzzle.
The first chart you’ll find below shows how he positioned himself as a shooter during the first half of the season. As you can see, he was pretty ineffective when it came to establishing shooting position in high-danger areas.
His less-than-optimal positioning likely factored into his paltry shot conversion rate of 6.85-percent. The next chart measures the same categories from the middle of the season until the final game.
The first thing that jumps off the page is his increased rate of high-danger shots. You’ll also notice a near three-foot reduction in his average shot distance, which is significant. As a result, his shot-conversion percentage increased a bit and so did his rate of shots on-target.
This isn’t to say that Mittelstadt became an elite shooter during the second half (far from it), but these improvements, while somewhat modest, are encouraging. That aside, the 20-year-old finished the year as one of the Sabres’ least effective forwards in terms of expected goals.
Not exactly great company, but when you consider the fact that the players listed one slot above, and below him were his most prominent linemates on the right side, the results aren’t particularly surprising.
Whether his situation was a result of poor planning or an intended “trial by fire” approach by the organization is up for debate. The acquisition of Patrik Berglund in the offseason was likely supposed to be a means of easing Mittelstadt into a full-time role at the NHL level. Berglund’s struggles and subsequent departure were not part of the Sabres’ plans in this regard.
Either way, it’s tough to place the blame solely on Mittelstadt’s shoulders. While he certainly didn’t produce at the clip that most fans expected coming into the season, given the circumstances, it’s tough to punish him too severely. Placing rookie centermen with under-performing wingers doesn’t exactly have a storied history of success.
All things considered, he experienced both high and low points while adjusting to a role that he wasn’t quite ready for. The real test comes in 2019-20 when the Sabres’ new coach will hopefully put him in a more optimal position to succeed.
Season Grade: C-
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