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Nation Network 2017 Prospect Profile: #7 – Casey Mittelstadt

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.

Bio:

  • 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)

Scouts:

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.

Future Considerations:

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.

Stadts:

Cohort pGPS

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.

Our Take:

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.

  • Locust

    I see him as a Phil Kessel.
    If you surround him with good players, let him do whatever he wants, whenever he wants and don’t let anyone hit him – he will produce points.
    In the NHL, I think he could only be successful on a top tier team.
    No thanks.

  • Ranger2k2

    First off, this has been a terrific series as someone who is always fascinated by the draft this has given me so much information to understand the players that are available.

    I think the Canucks will stay away from Casey, even though they have shown a penchant for picking players out of the USHL recently. Vancouver knows they need a top line center in at least two years if not after next year. I think Glass and/or Vilardi have a chance to play in the NHL in two years when I think Mittelstadt is at least 3 years away.

    Also congratulations to the entire Canucks Army group and your Carsoni award. Well deserved!

  • Pat Quinn Way

    This kid has ‘another Cody Hodgson’ written all over him and we just can’t afford to make another mistake like that in this draft. Avoid like the plague and let’s get er done with asolid 5th pick ffs Benning – no more excuses for the ‘draft guru’ who has just 1 of 21draft picks playing on the Canucks roster so far entering his fourth draft. NOT good enough guys!

  • Bud Poile

    Virtanen-20 years old.Nobody on planet earth plateaus at 20 years of age.
    McCann :See above.Smart-a$$ returned a #3 overall pick.
    Demko:Following same development avenue as Schneider.
    Tryamkin: Talented kid became pu$$y whipped.
    All 3 have played on the Canucks roster.
    Forsling: Talented but soft,traded for Clendenning that then brought in a 34 point,shutdown specialist.
    Benning’s first draft yielded four players that have played 280 games in the NHL,already.
    Demko will make it five NHL players:Benning Draft #1.
    http://www.tsn.ca/radio/vancouver-1040-i-1410/audio/button-demko-can-be-that-number-one-goalie-1.475897

      • Pat Quinn Way

        Shoulda Coulda Woulda – that’s it Dud, keep dancing to MY tune hup hup

        What part of only ONE player (Boeser) of 21 picks in three years is playing for the Canucks don’t you GET? Benning’s job is too draft players for the VANCOUVER CANUCKS ffs not Fla, Chi or the frickin KHL – Benning is failing big time, just like YOU on this forum old goat!

        ”Tryamkin will be on the blueline for at least the next ten years” -Bud the Dud

        LMFAO

        • Bud Poile

          Dearest Mature and civil,

          Most players are traded numerous times over a career.
          Benning’s job is to accumulate talent.
          Given the franchise prospect pool was gutted when he arrived marginal picks were traded.
          Tryamkin has already manned the blueline professionally for five years at the age of 22.
          He’s got another ten years in him,you mean.
          Kids these days.

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      You have a unique gift for euphemism, Bud. Also, I have heard that for the 3rd overall pick could be available quite cheaply, just for the price of a contract! Benning should jump at the opportunity to add that to his roster…oh wait, I was talking about Cam Barker, who went 3rd overall in 2004, sorry if that was unclear, but you see by your logic, Erik Gudbranson was a “#3 overall pick” and thus totally worth the same in hindsight as he was on draft day. Make sense?

  • Burnabybob

    Assuming the Canucks don’t trade Chris Tanev for a young center, I think they should pick Mittelstadt, Glass or Vilardi (not necessarily in that order). They’re in decent shape on the wings and have a clear need for a skilled center. Tryamkin’s departure leaves a big hole, but top defensemen often aren’t taken until the later rounds. Thankfully this year the Canucks have two second round picks. Hopefully they can put them to good use.

  • defenceman factory

    A little disappointed the article didn’t address Mittelstadt’s rather poor showing at the combine. He didn’t make the top 25 in any category and showed to have a serious lack of upper body strength. Again maybe this is a symptom of playing in high school where with things a bit too easy and these deficiencies don’t show up too much.

    Not to blow the pull ups out of proportion but this may have cost him a few spots in the draft. At the very least it indicates he has some hard work to do. Gonna take some time

    • Jackson McDonald

      I don’t put a lot of stock into combine results at that age. The combine is really just to set a baseline that you can design a player’s fitness plan around.

      In 2009, the player with far and away the best combine results was Louis LeBlanc. It’s not really that important at 17-18 although I do agree his results were disappointing.

      • defenceman factory

        But still. The tests are well known and predictable. Showing up unable to do a pull up is somewhat revealing. Barring injury they are easy to train for.

        I’m more concerned with what might be considered apathy than the physical weakness.

          • defenceman factory

            It was widely reported Sam Bennett was recovering from an injury. He was quite embarrassed and has publicly joked about doing pullups since. Completely agree lower body strength is much more important. Mittelstadt didn’t make the top 25 in any of those tests either.

            Keeping this in perspective, combine results don’t determine future success but they mean more than nothing. In this case probably a degree of physical immaturity, a symptom high school was too easy and perhaps an indication this prospect will take a bit longer to develop to his potential.

    • LTFan

      Agree. From all the discussion among many on CA and elsewhere it appears that Glass would be the best pick for the Canucks this year. Mittelstadt may become a good player in the NHL but it 4 years is too long to wait and the Canucks need help now. It is really tough when the team is struggling and help is a couple of years away.

      • Spiel

        Glass isn’t going to be an immediate help either. I watched him play a couple times against the Giants this year. Like most junior players, Glass has growing to do. He is also a project.

        Seems like there are 3 or 4 legitimate candidates for that “next” center after Hischier and Patrick but none of them are players who can help right away. Which of Petterson, Vilardi, Glass, or Middlestadt has the highest NHL ceiling and is most likely to reach it? That is the question that the scouts are paid to answer.