The Casey Mittelstadt watch is about to intensify.
The NCAA announced its Frozen Four bracket Sunday and, as expected, Mittelstadt's Minnesota Golden Gophers failed to make the field. His freshman season is over, which could prompt the Buffalo Sabres to sign their top prospect.
Buffalo has 11 games remaining, starting with Monday's visit by the Nashville Predators, giving Mittelstadt time to begin the standard three-year, entry-level contract. The first season would burn off with one game played because of clause in the collective bargaining agreement related to Mittelstadt's birthday being in November.
Buffalo has interest in bringing last year's No. 8 overall draft pick into the organization. The only question is whether Mittelstadt is ready to leave college behind.
Two top prospects bolted for the NHL after their freshman years last season. Clayton Keller left Boston University to play three games for the Arizona Coyotes. Tyson Jost departed North Dakota and skated in six games for the Colorado Avalanche.
Sabres fans have been clamoring for the 19-year-old Mittelstadt since watching him excel during the World Juniors in Buffalo this winter. Mittelstadt was the tournament MVP after recording four goals and 11 points in seven games for the United States.
Mittelstadt finished second for Minnesota with 30 points in 34 games. He scored 11 times and added 19 assists while earning a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. The center tied for the Minnesota lead with four power-play goals and was tied for second with 95 shots.
The Gophers could be facing tumultuous times after enduring a disappointing season. The perennial power went 19-17-2, including 10-12-2 in the conference. Don Lucia has coached the Gophers since 1999, but failing to make the Frozen Four field is unacceptable in Minnesota.
Any potential changes could impact Mittelstadt's decision. It's a decision that will generate a lot of interest in Buffalo.
Story topics: Casey Mittelstadt