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Buffalo Sabres Top 25 Under 25, #4: Casey Mittelstadt

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Beside lackluster linemates, the 20-year-old centerman struggled in his rookie season.

Chicago Blackhawks v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Rob Marczynski/NHLI via Getty Images

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of six staff writers and over 500 readers that ranked players under the age of 25 by September 1st, 2019. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player.

It’s probably safe to say that fans of the Buffalo Sabres were expecting more from Casey Mittelstadt in his first full season at the NHL level. Of course, growing pains were to be expected with any rookie, especially a teenager fresh out of the collegiate ranks. Still, a 25-point campaign fell short of even the most pessimistic offseason projections.

As most are already aware, there was plenty of blame to go around for Mittelstadt’s rookie shortcomings. It’s tough to imagine a more difficult circumstance than the one former head coach, Phil Housley put him in. Instead of placing him with a reliable veteran scoring presence on the second line (like Sam Reinhart for instance), Housley seemed content to repeatedly cycle the likes of Kyle Okposo and Tage Thompson on his right side (two of the Sabres’ least effective offensive-impact players last season).

Lackluster linemates aside, Mittelstadt can’t be totally absolved of blame, but for a team with so few scoring assets, perhaps a developmental year in the AHL would have been a more optimal approach. Either way, at the moment, he is still penciled in as the team’s second line center for the 2019-20 season. Fortunately, the presumed promotion of Victor Olofsson, and the arrival of Marcus Johansson via free agency, should give first-year bench boss, Ralph Kruger the ability to put the young man in a better position to succeed.

Undoubtedly, Mittelstadt’s statistical production will be under the microscope this season. As an upcoming RFA next summer, there is some added pressure, especially if he hopes to secure a long-term contract in Buffalo, instead of a bridge deal. Prior to the 2019 NHL Draft, he was really the only top-six center prospect in the organization.

That standing may not be as secure with Dylan Cozens now in the fold. Organizationally, the increased depth down the middle is a welcome addition, but it should also light a competitive fire under Mittelstadt to maintain his standing as the team’s second line center behind Jack Eichel moving forward.

#25 Miska Kukkonen

#24 Linus Weissbach

#23 Andrew Oglevie

#22 Jacob Bryson

#21 Casey Fitzgerald

#20 Marcus Davidsson

#19 Matej Pekar

#18 Ryan Johnson

#17 Mattias Samuelsson

#16 Oskari Laaksonen

#15 Arttu Ruotsalainen

#14 Will Borgen

#13 C.J. Smith

#12 Rasmus Asplund

#11 Tage Thompson

#10 Dylan Cozens

#9 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

#8 Henri Jokiharju

#7 Lawrence Pilut

#6 Victor Olofsson

#5 Rasmus Ristolainen