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Casey Mittelstadt lives up to hype at first Sabres development camp

Casey Mittelstadt curled to the left of a diving Kyle Keyser, lifting the puck into the top netting past Keyser's outstretched stick hand and drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd.

The goal gave Mittelstadt's white team a 2-0 lead in the finals of Tuesday's 3-on-3 tournament at Sabres development camp, which turned out to be all it would need to secure the French Connection Cup in an eventual 3-1 win.

Throughout the four days at HarborCenter with fellow prospects, Mittelstadt dazzled, for now living up to the hype that came along with his No. 8 overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft on June 23.

"We had a really good team so it was a lot of fun," Mittelstadt said. "We got to play with some pace and I think that's when I play at my best."

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The 18-year-old showcased his swift hands in tight-quartered drills on Saturday, Sunday and Monday before putting more speed on display during Tuesday's full-ice session. This year, the 3-on-3 tournament was played NHL overtime style on full ice, allowing playmakers like Mittelstadt to show off more of their arsenal, as opposed to last year's usage of strictly the offensive zone for 3-on-3 action.

His team, with a supporting cast that featured 2016 second-round pick Rasmus Asplund, 21-year-old winger Hudson Fasching and 2014 second-round pick Eric Cornel, went 5-0 on the morning between round-robin play and a pair of playoff games.

Earlier in the week, Mittelstadt said that when his hands are slightly rusty, his whole game is thrown off. That didn't seem to be the case in the most game-like situations players faced all week on Tuesday, as the rising college freshman left a stellar first impression on his coaching staff in team activity after doing so in individual activity for the first three days of camp.

"I think he's just trying to fit in with the group," first-year Sabres head coach Phil Housley said. "This is all new to everybody. All these players coming in, it's just about creating relationships and how you carry yourself off the ice. He did a really good job, not only Casey, but the whole group, coming here and bringing the energy."

As with any player, there are still areas of improvement for the 6-foot-1, 201-pound Mittelstadt. The new Sabres staff liked what they saw on the ice from their top pick but were also impressed with Mittelstadt's showing off the ice in the last four days.

"Casey, as we said in Chicago, we're excited to have him part of our organization," Sabres GM Jason Botterill said. "We knew he was a great person off the ice. There was things that he had to work on, upper-body strength. What we were excited about, we saw a lot of lower-body strength in some of our off-ice testing, just his interaction with our staff, ideas to improve his game and then he's going to a great program at Minnesota this year."

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After Mittelstadt explores the Buffalo area for the first time Tuesday night - he only went to a Chipotle Monday night - he'll fly back to Minnesota on Wednesday.

His freshman year at Minnesota begins in the fall, where he has his sights set on a Frozen Four appearance, especially since it's being held in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center. Fasching, who played three years at Minnesota before the Los Angeles Kings drafted him in the fourth round in 2013, fielded a bevy of questions from the rising freshman about life as a UofM hockey player in the last four days.

"Obviously he's been through it," Mittelstadt said. "I've got a lot of random questions for him, like any freshman. It definitely helps. It was great to have him here for the week."

It'll be a minimum of one season before Mittelstadt makes his decision on whether to remain in college or turn pro.

And with quite some time before that decision date comes, the rising star set the bar high for himself in his first chance to do so for a new Sabres staff.





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