Total Season Stats: 31 GP | 4 G | 5 A | 9 PTS
Contract Status: Group 1 RFA (Offer Sheet Ineligible)
It’s been a slow start in the NHL for the once-top prospect Casey Mittelstadt. The now 21 year-old leaped into the league scoring five points in his six game stint after leaving Minnesota. After managing only 25 points in 77 games in his rookie season, Mittelstadt was on an even slower pace before being sent down to Rochester this past season.
After being relied on for second line center minutes for a good portion of the 2018-2019 season, new coach Ralph Krueger implemented newly acquired forward Marcus Johansson with second-line pivot duty in hopes of sheltering Mittelstadt from tougher minutes and matchups. While this strategy in theory should’ve helped his development, the sophomore saw his production regress.
The new coach deployed Mittelstadt with more defensive zone starts this season, at 48.5% of his faceoffs occurring in the defensive zone, compared to the 27.5% in the year prior. This responsibility saw his corsi-for percentage numbers drop dramatically. While zone starts and teammate quality could be partially of blame, his isolated numbers were well below replacement level as well. He has yet to post respectable metrics at the NHL level, which raises concerns about seeing his production take a jump forward.
After 31 games, Mittelstadt was demoted to the team’s AHL affiliate in Rochester. It marked his first time playing professionally outside of the NHL, and the young center responded with nine goals and 16 assists in 36 games. His .69 points per game were third on the team for the season, trailing only call-ups Curtis Lazar and Tage Thompson. The Sabres hope this production was a sign of some potential development, and can prove to be the right move for the forward’s career.
As for his future, Mittelstadt enters the offseason as a restricted free agent. Since he did not register enough NHL games by the time his entry-level deal expired, he is not eligible to receive an offer sheet from another team. This, combined with lackluster statistics so far, leaves the Sabres with all of the power in negotiating a new contract. A one-way bridge deal is likely - not promised - at a minimal cost. Evolving-Hockey.com projects a two-year deal at $1,209,000 cap hit per year.
Overall, Mittelstadt still remains a question-mark. The offensive talent and transition game are his best assets, and he will need to exploit them next season to regain trust within the Sabres organization. As far as his place on the depth chart, the team will probably bring in top prospect Dylan Cozens next season, and will surely be in the market for a true second-line center so that Johansson can move back to the wing. This leaves Mittelstadt on the fringe again, unless he can transition well to the wing. In all likeliness, the former 8th-overall pick will begin the season in Rochester until he can prove he is worth the call-up once and for all.
Season Grade: D