Buffalo Sabres Top 20 Prospects Under 24, #8: Casey Mittelstadt

Contract uncertainty looms for the former 8th overall pick

The Top 20 Under 24 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of five staff writers and over 300 readers that ranked prospects under the age of 24 and have played less than 125 NHL games.

Two years ago around this time, Casey Mittelstadt did his best Kevin McCallister impression as his team was getting into the holiday spirit. Fast forward to now, and the third-year center is truly stuck home alone as he not only awaits a season, but also a contract.

The curious case of Casey Mittelstadt is a tale centered around the forward’s NHL production regressing in linear fashion. After breaking into the league immediately following his collegiate season with five points in six games, the Mittelstadt has put up .32 and .29 points per game, respectively. This ultimately led to his demotion to the AHL last season in hopes that he can rediscover his 8th overall draft pedigree.

The good news is that although he started out slow with the Americans, the lanky forward was able to produce at a quality rate in Rochester. When the season was called, Mittelstadt accumulated nine goals and 16 assists in 36 games for a total of 25 points for the Amerks. Far from a complete product, it was at least encouraging to see the former first rounder flash his speed in transition coupled with good offensive skill. If he can continue to show progress in those areas, it should be enough to make him a full-time NHLer once again.

The problem areas of Mittelstadt’s game include puck possession, defensive zone responsibility, play without the puck, and endurance. So while he may be flashy during his “five minutes of fame” in transition, there is a lot more to consider when weighing the quality of his shifts. As you can see by Evolving-Hockey.com’s regularized adjusted plus-minus chart, in 2019-2020 he was below replacement-level in every category in the model - including on the powerplay.

Perhaps what makes Mittelstadt’s situation the most interesting is his current contract situation. As a tendered 10.2(c) player, he is a restricted free agent who cannot negotiate with any other NHL team. In other words, since he cannot sign an offer sheet and couldn’t go to arbitration, he has basically zero leverage in contract negotiations. This makes it all the more baffling that Minnesotan has yet to sign with the club.

It is noteworthy to mention that Tage Thompson, whose status in the organization parallels Mittelstadt’s, signed a three-year, 1.4 million average annual value contract with Buffalo just a couple of months ago. Thompson however, unlike Mittelstadt, was not classed as a 10.2(c) player and carried full restricted free agent status.

If he does sign before the season starts, assuming there is a 2021 season, Mittelstadt will fill in the depth chart as a fringe forward in a battle for about two or three spots up for grabs with the Sabres. A switch to left wing may be in order to minimize his liabilities, although that may also limit his strengths as well since the puck will not be on his stick as much. Fitness and conditioning will likely be the areas he’ll need to show immediate improvement in to claim a spot, especially considering the long lay-off due to the pandemic.