Casey Mittelstadt has been a hot topic among Sabres fans so far in the preseason. The 20-year-old center underachieved last season as a rookie and hasn’t gotten off to the best start in the preseason.
His first game against the Columbus Blue Jackets wasn’t good, but he appeared to bounce back against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday. At first glance, I thought he created more offensively and held his own defensively for the most part against the Auston Matthews line primarily.
There was some differing opinion on his performance Friday, thus I decided to go back and re-watch all 21 shifts from Mittelstadt during that game. I apologize, some of the videos may be choppy in here, but it’s the best I could get by recording video grabs on the laptop. It would be nice if NHL had an “all-22” game tape like the NFL, but I digress.
Shift 1: 19:33 - 18:39
This shift was a neutral zone start for Mittelstadt and his line. The big play here was the play that resulted in the 2 on 1 chance for William Nylander early in the game. Mittelstadt would pick up the puck in the neutral zone and enter the offensive zone. He then tries to force a shot through two defenders just above the top of the face off circles in the middle of the ice.
The shot is blocked and Nylander is off to the races in the other direction. Ultimately Zach Redmond does a good job playing the 2 on 1 and forces Nylander into a low percentage shot.
This is a low percentage shot attempt by Mittelstadt that is easily blocked by the defender just inside the offensive blue line. He was probably better off dumping the puck in behind the defenders since he was coming with speed or driving to the outside and waiting for support.
Shift 2: 16:36 - 16:02
This is another neutral zone start. His line spends all of this shift in the defensive zone. You may remember this sequence early in the game as well.
Matthews steps around Mittelstadt in the neutral zone with a nice move. To Mittelstadt’s credit he stays with the play and pressures him from behind, eventually resulting in Matthews losing the puck with some help from Will Borgen.
Not a lot to take away from this shift besides this sequence. Matthews made him look bad, but he was able to recover defensively.
Shift 3: 13:31 - 13:09
Here’s the first instance where Mittelstadt starts on the fly. Again, not a lot to take away from this shift, but there’s one memorable sequence. Nylander picks up the puck on the wall and drives below the net looking to create a scoring chance.
Mittelstadt stays with Nylander the entire way. He doesn’t allow him to get to the front of the net or make a pass. He forces him up high on the wall, but C.J. Smith was there for support. Nylander turns back down low and appears to lose Mittelstadt for a moment, but Jacob Bryson is there for more support. The play results in Nylander going for a skate and the puck eventually sliding to Ullmark for a whistle.
Good defensive coverage by Mittelstadt here overall.
Shift 4: 11:13 - 11:09
Very short shift that ends with a penalty against the Sabres.
Shift 5: 9:31 - 8:34
Once again he starts with an on the fly change. Early on in his shift, Toronto gets a scoring chance off a point shot that is deflected. After some time in the defensive zone, the puck eventually gets sent back into the Leafs end of the ice.
Late in his shift, Mittelstadt does a good job battling hard on the puck. He prevents a zone exit attempt by the Leafs and eventually gets back possession. He manages to get the puck into the opposite offensive corner so he can go off for a change and hoping the new players coming on can continue to forecheck by flipping the sides of the ice.
Shift 6: 5:36 - 4:34
For the fourth straight shift, he begins with an on the fly change. This time, however, the puck is in the offensive zone for most of the shift. His line gets a good cycle going and when the puck does leave the zone, Mittelstadt gets it back to create another scoring chance.
Instead of forcing a long range shot like he did earlier in the period, Mittelstadt, cuts across the zone and drives wide with his speed. He takes a look to see how the play is developing before finding an open Kyle Okposo. Unfortunately, Okposo takes a second too long to get his shot off and Rasmus Sandin blocks it.
Good sign that he learned from his earlier mistake with this sequence.
Shift 7: 1:46 - 1:03
This is the first defensive zone start for Mittelstadt and the last shift of the period. Nothing much happens on this shift.
Shift 8: 19:35 - 18:43
Another defensive zone start here. Off the draw, Mittelstadt ends up with the puck in behind the net and tries to make a play with it. The Leafs forward steals the puck away, but the Sabres are able to regain possession shortly after.
Mittelstadt leads a controlled zone exit a few seconds after his turnover, but loses the puck in the neutral zone as it’s poked away by the Leafs defenseman. He gets the puck back a few seconds later and this time enters the zone with success. The bad news is he runs into Kyle Okposo in the middle of the offensive zone and turns the puck over again.
Off topic, but we may need to have a conversation about Okposo soon.
Shift 9: 16:09 - 15:33
Another defensive zone start on this shift, but nothing much happens. The puck remains in the defensive zone, but the line as a whole does a good job with defensive zone coverage. Once the puck exits the zone, Mittelstadt goes off for a change.
Shift 10: 13:37 - 12:39
This is one of the better shifts of the game for Mittelstadt. They get an offensive zone start here and he creates a good scoring chance early in the shift. He takes the puck behind the net and holds off Nylander. Mittelstadt finds Okposo cutting to the net for a one-timer chance in the high slot, but Freddie Andersen makes the save.
After that opportunity, Nylander exits the zone with the puck, but Mittelstadt pressures him from behind with support from John Gilrmour and forces a dump in to the Sabres end. Mittelstadt retrieves the puck to begin a nice give and go zone exit with Gilmour. He carries the puck through the neutral zone and dumps it into the Leafs end before heading off on a change.
We continue to see flashes of Mittelstadt’s transition ability that was one of the strong points of his game last season. He needs some wingers that have the ability to attack on the rush and can create space for him to use his creativity with the puck.
Shift 11: 11:07 - 10:42
Quick shift and nothing happens.
Shift 12: 8:42 - 8:00
This is an offensive zone start and Mittelstadt breaks his stick early in the shift. As the puck heads up ice he gets a new twig and gets back into the play. One of the things we’re going to see crop in his game near the end here is getting beat to the front of the net.
He loses a puck battle on the wall and is beat to the front of the by Agostino. He’s at the end of his shift, but this type of situation can’t happen. It’s a defensive breakdown that looks lazy when you watch back the video.
Shift 13: 7:23 - 6:12
This is Mittelstadt’s only power play shift of the game. He makes a nice pass to Vlad Sobotka early in the sequence for a redirect on goal. Later in his shift, after Toronto cleared the puck, Mittelstadt had a controlled zone entry to setup the power play again. He also managed to pick up a shot from the face off dot that was stopped by Andersen.
I’m still of the belief that Mittelstadt should be on his non-one-timer side with the man advantage or working below the net on the top power play unit.
Shift 14: 1:21 - 0:13
I liked this shift for Mittelstadt. He jumped on the ice when the Sabres had controlled possession in the offensive zone for some time. He was able to take advantage of a tired group on the ice.
To start the shift he recognized a pinch from the defenseman and went up high to cover him. The puck eventually comes to him at the point. He attacks the net and forces the Leafs forward to make a decision. He finds an open Borgen for a quality scoring chance.
Mittelstadt continues the strong shift by retrieving the puck with a battle along the wall after this shot. He takes the puck back up high and puts a shot on goal from just inside the blue line that Andersen stops.
After 40 minutes the possession and scoring chance metrics were in favor of Mittelstadt. He had a 66% Corsi at 5 on 5 and a 52% expected goal percentage. Through two periods he played well for the most part. He generated some offense, was strong in transition, and played relatively well defensively.
The final 20 minutes don’t go so well for him.
Shift 15: 19:01 - 18:26
We don’t get much that happens in this shift. Mittelstadt goes end to end on a rush, but it doesn’t amount to anything. Cody Ceci knocks the puck away when he gets into the offensive zone and the Leafs start a rush back up the ice.
Shift 16: 15:57-15:00
Not a lot to take out of this shift. The puck stays in the defensive end for the majority of his time on the ice, but Toronto doesn’t get a quality scoring chance.
Shift 17: 12:20 - 11:41
The Sabres get stuck in their own end for an extended period. Tage Thompson and Remi Elie are caught on a particularly long shift. Prior to the clip below, they get running around and all three forwards ended up on one side of the ice chasing the puck.
Mittelstadt does a good job of recognition of what the Leafs want to do. It appears as though he points to Andreas Johnsson who is around the blue line, out of the picture. Nobody picks him up and he comes into the high slot for a scoring chance.
Shift 18: 10:38 - 10:20
This is where the Leafs score their third goal. Smith makes a poor pass exiting the zone and Matt Read comes down the wing to score.
Shift 19: 7:55 - 7:34
The Mittelstadt line started this shift in the defensive zone. Off the draw, Mittelstadt has the puck behind the net. Matthews ends up picking his pocket and getting the puck out front for a scoring chance.
He gets the opportunity to exit the zone with possession after this chance, but gives the puck away in the neutral zone with a poor pass. He seemed off his game (along with the rest of the team) the entire third period.
Shift 20: 5:09 - 4:24
This is the shift where Mittelstadt had his best scoring chance of the game. He picks up the puck in the neutral zone and blows by Sandin. He gets in alone on Michael Hutchinson, but puts the puck off the post.
Unfortunately, after that chance, we see another poor defensive play. At the other end of the ice, Mittelstadt loses Nylander in coverage again and he gets a quality scoring chance.
Mittelstadt had one shift left in the game, but my feed cut out so I wasn’t able to get a look at it. Overall the 20-year-old center ended the game with 13:25 TOI at 5 on 5 and 14:37 in all situations. He picked up one shot on goal and had six shot attempts throughout the game according to Natural Stat Trick.
He finished the game with a 40.74 CF% and 33.12 xGF% at 5 on 5. His poor third period pulled those numbers down. Unlike in Columbus, he saw a lot more offensive zone starts in this game (85%).
It was a better performance than what we saw from him in his preseason opener. He made some good plays and did so with linemates that were not the best, against one of the best players in the league (Matthews) primarily.
Mittelstadt has to continue to work on his defensive game and it’s still a good idea to put him with strong defensive wingers to start the season. We’ll see how he plays in the two remaining preseason games.