The USHL has quickly become one of the best junior hockey leagues in the world, producing more and more drafted prospects with each passing year, to the point where it has now surpassed the QMJHL in terms of player graduation. This year is no different, as a number of USHL players have been ranked in our top 100 prospects series.
Casey Mittelstadt is by far the best of the bunch, and has been on the radar as a potential top-ten pick since the start of the season. There are some concerns about Mittelstadt stunting his development by returning to Eden Prairie High to chase a championship instead of remaining in the far more competitive USHL, and there are some red flags concerning his ability to produce at even-strength, but Mittelstadt is still one of the most intriguing and dynamic players in this draft, which is why we have him at #7 on our consensus ranking.
- Age: 18, 1998-11-22
- Birthplace: Eden Prairie, MN, USA
- Position: C/LW
- Handedness: L
- Frame: 6’1″/201 lbs
- Draft Year Team: Eden Prairie High (USHS)/Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects:
An electric offensive presence on the ice, Casey Mittelstadt brings the complete package of speed, skill, and hockey sense. He competes hard with every shift, and has the dynamic puck skills to keep up with his creativity, which is a hallmark of his game. His awareness is all-encompassing, and he never puts his teammates in positions where their time and space will be bottlenecked. Bigger players don’t phase him, as he thinks the game analytically and will find chinks in the opposition’s armor on the fly. As a result, Mittelstadt is often seen forcing more complicated plays that the opposition won’t be able to read in time. On top of all this, he can play a north-south game, and his transition game is already at an elite level. He’s a complete player with the predatory instincts necessary to succeed as a consistent and, perhaps, dominant point producer at the next level.
A smart, quick and highly skilled center…has a tremendous first-step jump, change of pace and ability to make defenders miss…though not the biggest or strongest player on the ice, he finds success in loose puck battles by using his smarts and insane ability to shield the puck from defenders…never takes a shift off, and has added noticeable muscle and speed this season…will finish chances with a quick release on a wrister or powerful snap shot…puckhandling skills are excellent and he is able to create scoring chances in almost all of his offensive-zone shifts using his great vision and understanding of the game…aware of his defensive responsibility and backchecks hard to cover…sets up scoring chances using accurate, hard passes…always in the action and loves being the go-to guy…can beat defenders or gain the zone by utilizing this hands, feet or brain…a potential future top-line, two-way guy.
Steve Kourianos, The Draft Analyst:
No draft-eligible player exemplifies infectious leadership the way this Minnesota-reared super scorer does, and there’s a strong chance Mittelstadt will end up within a select group of prospects to challenge Nolan Patrick for the top slot. Size, speed, grace, vision, power and enthusiasm are just a few words one throws around when dissecting his game, and it will be on display for the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2017. Mittelstadt is a money player with a deadly shot, using his size and lower body strength to step into it with NHL-level velocity. He can also make flashy plays and use a dizzying array of puck skills to turn defenders inside-out before threading the needle with a crisp pass. Mittelstadt can play both center and wing, but he exploits his acute sense for finding and acquiring pucks from either position. He led the USHL in scoring as a rookie before returning to high school, where his bid to lead Eden Prairie to a state AA title fell just short.
pGPS doesn’t shine the most favourable light on Mittelstadt, but I have to stress that his sample of USHL games is very small, as is his list of cohorts. Mittelstadt’s closest successful match is Paul Stastny, but it should be noted that Mittelstadt’s era-adjusted scoring rate slightly edges him out.
Casey Mittelstadt has been on my radar since last summer, when I looked at the Canucks options for replacing Henrik Sedin. Since then, Mittelstadt’s reputation has only grown, as he lead the USHL in scoring before returning to high school to compete for a state championship.
The decision to return to Eden Prairie was a season-defining move, and one that seems to begin any conversation about Mittelstadt. He absolutely shredded high-school competition, but that’s exactly what you’d expect from a USHL-calibre player skating in an inferior league. The concern regarding Mittelstadt in the scouting community is that playing another year with Eden Prairie hurt his development, and based on my viewings of Mittelstadt there may be merit to that theory.
Mittelstadt’s toolkit is enviable, possessing the requisite skating ability and scoring touch you’d expect from a top-ten pick, but he picked up some bad habits playing high school hockey that weren’t able to be coached out of him during his brief stint in the USHL. At times, Mittelstadt can be seen forcing plays or trying to skate through his competition rather than around it, something he just isn’t going to get away with at the pro level.
For the numerically inclined, there’s an even bigger red flag when it comes to Mittelstadt: his production at even-strength. During his stint in the USHL, over two-thirds of Mittelstadt’s points came on the powerplay, and he had just two primary assists at even-strength. Five-on-five production is much more repeatable than special teams success, so there are reasons to be concerned about Mittelstadt’s ability to produce at higher levels.
Now that I’ve addressed the concerns about Mittelstadt’s game, I’d like to list all the reasons I’m not worried about his ability to be an effective player at the professional level in the long-term.
With regards to Mittelstadt returning to Eden Prairie, there’s no denying that it had a negative impact on his development. When it comes to honing his game against top competition, he’s probably a little less than a season behind some of his peers. But there’s a reason he’s been ranked as a top prospect for the 2017 draft since early July. His offensive toolkit is among the best in the draft, and I don’t expect it to disappear simply because his competition increases.
In his draft-1 season, Mittelstadt put up fantastic numbers in a small sample with the USDP and internationally at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, indicating that he’s as likely to benefit from playing with superior players as he is to struggle against them. Something you often hear about ostensibly elite players that don’t put up the numbers you’d expect is that their teammates struggle to read the play at the same level. I often scoff at that idea, but in Mittelstadt’s case i think it holds water. In brief appearances with better teammates, he’s excelled. During his stint with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, he looked at times like he was trying to do it all himself. Once he gets used to no longer having to do that, and he unlearns some of his bad habits, I suspect he’ll be just fine.
The more pressing issue is his reltively pedestrian 5v5 scoring rate. But even that looks less worrisome when you do some digging. The truth is, the Gamblers weren’t a particularly strong team this season, and they struggled to produce at evens in general, finishing third-last in 5v5 goals in the USHL. The Gamblers’ most prolific goal-scorer didn’t even finish in the top 20 in league scoring. Mittelstadt only played 24 games in the USHL, hardly a representative sample to begin with, and there’s evidence to suggest that his production was hindered somewhat by weak quality of teammates, so I think we can walk back some of our worries about his even-strength offence.
From a pure skill standpoint, Mittelstadt is one of the draft’s most impressive players. He has great acceleration and top speed, a deadly shot, and the strength and tenacity to take the puck to areas of the ice where goals are scored. The offensive ability is there, it’s just a matter of being patient enough to wait for him to put it all together.
My chief concern about Mittelstadt is that it is more than likely that he will take longer to develop simply because he doesn’t have the level of experience at high levels as his peers. He has the skill and the will to catch up, it’s just a matter of perseverance. My only piece of advice to teams looking at Mittelstadt would be to make absolutely sure that he has the mental toughness to deal with the probability that the game won’t come to him with the level of ease he’s become accustomed to when he goes to university in the fall. As long as that’s the case, the team that selects him is going to get a hell of a player.