As top pick, lots of eyes are on Casey Mittelstadt's mitts - The Buffalo News

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As top pick, lots of eyes are on Casey Mittelstadt's mitts

Watch the hands.

You have certain expectations when you see top-10 draft picks for the first time. Casey Mittelstadt has had that pizazz the last two days at Sabres development camp. He's got the quick jets in his skates and the shifty moves with the puck.

There are a lot of drills being thrown at the prospects, many of whom are seeing life in a pro camp for the first time. Mittelstadt, taken eighth overall last month in Chicago, is certainly getting a ton of attention from the fans who have poured into HarborCenter to take a look at the Minnesota high school star.

"It's July. There's a little bit of rust," Mittelstadt said during one break in the action. "One of the best parts of my game are my hands. When those are a little rusty, I'm a little off."

There are some simple hockey drills being applied in this camp but several wrinkles thrown in as well. There are obstacles around the ice. Mini nets in use as pseudo defenseman or a passing boomerang. Quickness and speed are tested. Stickhandling and passing skills are quickly noticeable.

Mittelstadt has looked strong in those areas, just as you would imagine. But like he said, it's July hockey. This is only a glimpse of what he has.

"To be honest, I think for me the hands are the last thing to come back," he said. "I've been skating back home so that helps. Especially wanting to come to camp not too rusty. The hands are the most important part of my game. When they come back is when I think I'm playing well."

Mittelstadt's instincts in tight spaces have been obvious thus far, so it will be interesting to watch him with room to work during Tuesday's 3-on-3 tournament that will close camp.

"One thing they want to do here is play with some pace," he said. "I love to do that. Get out there and get the wheels going.

"If you're competitive enough, there's always something you want to prove. I've always got a littlle bit of a chip on my shoulder. It's important to come out, be comfortable, play your game and try to be yourself. It's important to not do anything you can't do or that's out of your zone."

Mittelstadt is rooming at this camp with 21-year-old summer veteran Hudson Fasching, who signed with the Sabres out of the University of Minnesota after playing three years with the Golden Gophers. Mittelstadt will be playing there this season as a freshman.

"It's nice. You come out here and you don't know many guys," Mittelstadt said. "To get thrown here with him and I have a lot in common with him and background together is good. It's nice to room with him and get a comfort zone right away."

Mittelstadt is ticketed for at least one year of college before making a decision about turning pro. By most accounts, two years seems like his max time. But he's going slow. High school hero. Then be a standout in college. Then worry about the Sabres. It's how Fasching's career has played out too.

"I'm really looking forward to the fall, getting to go in and wear the 'M'," Mittelstadt said of the Minnesota logo. "To be honest, I barely knew him at all. We have a little bit of background in common but never really crossed paths. I've seen him in the weight room a few times before this. He still works out at the university. I met him in there a few times and he said, 'Welcome to Buffalo.' "

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Fasching, acquired by former General Manager Tim Murray in a 2013 trade with Los Angeles, is one of the happy-go-lucky characters of development camp and was more than pleased when reporters brought up the subject of Mittelstadt with him over the weekend.

"That's always fun. It's good to have another Minnesota guy," Fasching said. "I've seen him in the weight room and we've skated a couple of times. It's kind of cool to have that. He seems like a great kid, has got a great work ethic."

Fasching said Mittelstadt has already been picking his brain about what the college hockey experience will be like.

"He's got the curious questions coming in his first year there," Fasching said. "How does everything start out? Things like that. I'm looking forward to hanging out with him here."

Mittelstadt is the second straight No. 8 overall pick by the Sabres, joining Alexander Nylander at this camp. Nylander struggled mightily last year at times in Rochester but was able to make his NHL debut late in the year. Mittelstadt won't be going down that road but understands the scrutiny he'll be under is largely the same.

"In all honesty, I've been in the spotlight for a few years in Minnesota," he said. "Although it's one state, playing high school hockey there you learn to live in that spotlight and people are going to know who you are.

"For me, it's not too bad. I've been experiencing it the last few years. Obviously not to this magnititude but to a point where it will help me. You want to go as high as you can, especially if you're a competitive kid like me. It's an honor but it's something you've got to live up to and I've had no problem trying to do that."

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