You're not going to make any sweeping judgments on Casey Mittelstadt from six games with the NHL's worst team. Mittelstadt had some good moments and some troublesome ones in his first taste of NHL life with the Buffalo Sabres, just like you'd expect from any 19-year-old.
But he left the Sabres and their fans waiting for more. Mittelstadt is going to start for Team USA at the World Championships next month in Denmark. Then development camp in July. And then things get serious with training camp in September, when the hope is Mittelstadt will be ready to step right into a revamped roster for the 2018-19 season.
Mittelstadt had a goal and four assists in his six games. He also finished with a plus-1 rating and was a respectable 17-19 on faceoffs.
"This is about him getting more experience," coach Phil Housley said over the weekend during the team's season-ending Florida road trip. "There's times he's really handled himself and times it's been a bit of a push because of the teams we're playing, the speed and the transition."
"He's obviously quick and smart," said defenseman Brendan Guhle. "It's always exciting to be out there with him to generate chances. He makes good plays."
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Mittelstadt by the numbers
Date Opp G-A-Pts TOI SOG +/- FO
Mar 29 DET 0-1-1 12:53 1 -1 5-3
Mar 31 NSH 0-1-1 13:59 1 0 3-5
Apr 2 TOR 0-0-0 12:01 0 0 1-4
Apr 4 OTT 0-1-1 16:29 1 0 1-1
Apr 6 TBL 1-0-1 13:32 4 1 2-1
Apr 7 FLA 0-1-1 15:13 2 1 5-5
Totals (6 GP) 1-4-5 14:02* 9 1 17-19
* average ice time
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The change of pace in possession has been one challenge for Mittelstadt. He committed a turnover that led to a Nashville goal in the Sabres' win over the Predators as he lost the puck in the corner and it was quickly passed to the front of the net. That's not something that happened much in college.
"Everything overall is a little bit faster and teams are a lot better at transitioning here," Mittelstadt said. "The puck moves a lot quicker the other way if there's a turnover. Learning to manage the puck has been a big part of it for me."
Mittelstadt shows dynamic puck skills but is certainly a work in progress defensively. Housley kept his ice time down to 12:01 last Monday in Toronto. There was even some shifts at wing with Jack Eichel in Wednesday's home finale against Ottawa.
"There's a lot of things that young guys have to process fast and the game is much faster than down in college," Housley said. "We knew there would be times he would have trouble handling those things but this is why he's here, gaining that experience."
Mittelstadt assisted on Evan Rodrigues' goal to get an assist in his first game, March 29 against Detroit. He was thrilled to get his first NHL goal out of the way, a wicked wrist shot on a power play Friday night in Tampa. But while he probably took a look at that replay a few times for posterity, he was focusing more of his work away from the puck as well.
"I like to watch all my shifts on the video," he said. "You can learn from them. There's a lot of things I can do better and you want to learn something and to tie it to your next game. I've been getting more comfortable in every aspect of the game each day out. Faceoffs are such a big part of the game when you play center. I'm definitely getting better at them and learning."
For the next couple weeks, Mittelstadt will be finishing his classes in Statistics and Leadership from the University of Minnesota. Coming to Buffalo turned a negative into a positive after the Gophers failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
"Being a Gopher, I was all in on being in the Frozen Four. We all were," he said. "That was our focus. Especially with it being in St. Paul. Playing for the Gophers and not making the NCAA Tournament honestly is pretty embarrassing. It was a big disappointment. We definitely wanted to play and go on a run and it was not fun to not get there. So I wasn't really thinking about this."
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While the Sabres closed the season with Saturday's 4-3 loss in Florida, eight of the players will continue on the ice in Rochester.
Buffalo has sent forwards Nick Baptiste, Alexander Nylander and Kevin Porter; defensemen Guhle, Casey Nelson and Matt Tennyson; and goaltenders Linus Ullmark and Adam Wilcox back to the Amerks.
Rochester has three regular-season games remaining (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) and has already clinched a spot in the American Hockey League playoffs.