By Suzie Cool (@SuzKewl) | Published on December 16, 2019
On June 23, 2017, hundreds of lives changed during the first day of the National Hockey League Entry Draft. One of those lives being then 18-year-old Casey Mittelstadt getting selected in the first round as the eighth overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres.
Fast forward a couple of months down the road and the young forward began to embark on a collegiate career at the University of Minnesota. In his one and only season as a Gopher, Mittelstadt was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team while skating in 34 games and recording 30 points (11+19). Following this outstanding rookie campaign, Mittelstadt then made the decision to sign a three-year, entry-level contract with the Sabres on March 26, 2018.
Now let’s fast forward to just three days after signing that three-year, entry-level contract.
Mittelstadt is now 19 years old and it hasn’t even been a full calendar year since his initial draft date, but on March 29, 2018, he’s now lacing up his skates and getting ready to make his NHL debut against the Detroit Red Wings.
In his first professional game, the young forward recorded 12:53 ice time while also notching his first pro point with an assist on a second-period goal by Evan Rodrigues. Immediately making an impact with his new club just 24 minutes and 51 seconds into his first game donning a Sabres uniform.
Eight days after that NHL debut, the Buffalo newcomer lit the lamp for his first pro goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning just 2:57 into the first frame. In total, he would finish with five points (1+4) over a brief six-game stint with the Sabres, making the most of his short time at the NHL level while proving his worth.
Now let’s move on and hit pause to focus on Mittelstadt’s first official season for a quick moment.
The 2018-19 season would be Mittelstadt’s rookie campaign in the NHL, where he saw time in 77 games with the Sabres. In those 77 tilts, the rookie went on to combine for 12 goals and 13 assists while becoming an asset on the power-play with 10 of his 25 points coming while the team was on the man-advantage.
Through the first 10 games of this year, Mittelstadt seemed to be back on track, having a multi-point effort to kick off the year and combining for seven points (3+4) over that span. Somewhere, though, the points stopped coming and between Oct. 24 and Nov. 9, Mittelstadt wouldn’t find his name on the scoresheet for anything other than a plus/minus on-ice rating and his collective time on ice.
WATCH: CASEY MITTELSTADT POST PRACTICE ON MONDAY
Now, everyone please grab your remotes once again because we’re going to take the time to fast forward just one more time.
It’s a beautiful Sunday here in the Flower City and the Rochester Americans are making their community proud after a two-game sweep against the Laval Rocket this past weekend. The date is Dec. 15 and all Amerks fans are at peace knowing their team has sole possession of first place in the North Division. At 5:00 p.m., things were about to get even sweeter with the Sabres assigning Mittelstadt to the Amerks.
You’re probably wondering, why did we need to know all of that for you to simply tell us something that we already know?
Well again, let me break it down for you.
There is indeed a very human side to these athletes. That Mittelstadt, at only 21 years old, has probably had the spotlight on him since the day he was drafted eighth overall back in 2017. That maybe the pressure, the spotlight and the attention were just a little too overwhelming at times.
But now that he’s here, he’s focused and determined to work on the things that made him so successful last season while hoping to contribute to an Amerks team that is surging up the standings. For however long Mittelstadt may be here in Rochester, it’s a time for him to grow and learn while alleviating some of the pressure that he may have been feeling at the NHL level while seeing the game from a different viewpoint.
“I think there’s always pressure from myself and it’s nice to come down here. It’s a little bit different and I get to hang out with some of the guys my age that I know really well. Obviously, there’s going to be some things that I’m going to need to get used to,” stated Mittelstadt when asked if this move could help him get back to his best game.
There’s not one particular thing that the second-year pro can pinpoint as to why the move may have happened, but he does admit that sometimes you just go in and out of the flow of the game. After his 16-game rut, Mittelstadt got on the scoresheet only twice with a lone goal and an assist through his last six games in Buffalo. And after an admittedly poor defensive effort against the Vancouver Canucks on Dec. 7, the forward found himself as a healthy scratch in three of his next four games while still on the Sabres roster.
“I think there’s a lot of things I can still learn, but I think I’m just trying to find what made me good again. Like I said, just to have the puck on my stick, being able to play with the puck on my stick, use my skill and get back to that,” the forward remarked when asked how he could take advantage of his playing time while in the American Hockey League.
Mittelstadt is joining the Amerks at a remarkable time, with the team having earned points in 15 of their last 16 games and holding a three-point lead for first place in the North Division over the Toronto Marlies. With all of the back and forth action between players and staff from Buffalo all the way to Cincinnati, Rochester’s success can be attributed to the close-knit group that head coach Chris Taylor has at hand.
WATCH: HC CHRIS TAYLOR POST PRACTICE ON MONDAY
With each and every recall and new assignment, Taylor and his team have made a great adjustment of learning to play with one another on the fly while at times even learning new positions. It’s in this unique strength that Taylor has no doubt Mittelstadt will get right back on track. From working on the power-play to defensive zone face-offs, Mittelstadt is going to be thrown into a number of different situations in order to restore his confidence with a great deal of playing time in his future.
“I believe that you need that confidence in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. The confirmations of ‘he can score goals’ and the confirmation that ‘he can make big passes’ and be a key player on the team. I think this will be a great thing for his confidence, playing with us and getting that ice time and getting that responsibility,” Taylor commented when asked how important Mittelstadt’s confidence is when trying to get back to his game.
Again, there’s no true timestamp as to how long Mittelstadt could stay right here in Rochester, but it serves as the perfect opportunity for him to experience true progression in his skills and abilities that he didn’t know were possible.
By surpassing the minor leagues prior to his NHL debut, the forward still has many more benchmarks to uncover throughout his career and now he can mark Rochester off of his list. Kind of like the ‘leveling up’ concept in video games, Mittelstadt can use his time here on the Amerks roster to unlock new areas of his game and master the skills needed to ‘level back up’ when the time is right and his confidence is back to being fully restored.
Now, Amerks fans, go ahead and press play because come Wednesday night Mittelstadt is about to show everyone just what level he’s on in his first ever AHL game against the Binghamton Devils – game on.