Casey Mittelstadt admitted that it’s been on his mind a bit at times, but now that the 2017 NHL Draft is just days away, he’s ready for the process to be over and to join his new organization.
Over the past year-plus, the 18-year-old center from Eden Prairie, Minn., has consistently been ranked among the top 10 — usually the top five — players available for the draft, and the top American, even appearing as high as third on some draft lists.
“Obviously, it can be a little stressful at times,” acknowledged Mittelstadt, who will participate in the 2017 World Junior Summer Showcase at USA Hockey Arena before heading to the University of Minnesota next season, regardless of who selects him on Friday. “I just tried to focus on the task at hand and usually, that’s just trying to win the next game, especially when you’re in the middle of your season. But now that it’s getting closer, I think me and my family are getting excited and I think it will be a little bit of a relief when you hear your name called — a good mix of excitement and relief for me and my entire family.”Like many top-level draft picks, Mittelstadt spent his draft season surrounded by hype.
Fortunately for him, between beginning the season with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, returning to Eden Prairie High School and leading the Eagles to the Minnesota state semifinals, then re-joining the Gamblers for the remainder of the season, he hasn’t had time to pay attention to all the hype.
Mittelstadt at 2016 All-American Prospects Game
“I try not to look into it too much,” said Mittelstadt, who wanted one more shot at the Minnesota high school state championship after Eden Prairie lost in the state final in 2016. “Wherever I go, I’m sure I’ll be happy. Obviously, whoever picks you means they want you, so that will definitely be good with me and I got no problem with that. I honestly don’t look into it too much. I’m confident in my game, so whoever takes me, I think I’ll be ready to try to do my best.”
His coach/general manager in Green Bay, Pat Mikesch, confirms that Mittelstadt did not dwell much on his draft status.
“I think it’s a credit to his family that he’s a really grounded player and young man,” Mikesch said. “Never once was it a distraction, and sometimes, there’s so many things that they can read about themselves, and I think he did a nice of job of just separating himself from that and just focusing on playing hockey.”
Mittelstadt with Green Bay
It can be an odd situation to have a player leave the team mid-season and then return months later, but Mikesch described the highly skilled Mittelstadt as a model player, both on and off the ice.
“He’s a great person, a great teammate, he was a pleasure to have around,” Mikesch said. “He’s one of those kids who comes to the rink every day and wants to learn something and challenge himself. He’s that easy to coach. The elite skills are something that we only get to work with every once in a while in our league and so, for us, as coaches, it’s a great opportunity and enjoyable when a player like that wants to show up every day and be special.”
While he identifies Penguins star Sidney Crosby as his favorite player, Mittelstadt doesn’t really model his game after any one player — instead, copying traits from a bunch of different people to incorporate into his own unique style.
“I don’t have one guy I watch and try to become or anything,” said Mittelstadt, who is now listed at 6-foot-1, 201 pounds. “I think I watch a little bit of everyone and try to take little things from each of their games, but I don’t think there’s one guy that really stands out or looks a lot like me.”
The past year has been a big one for Mittelstadt. After playing a key role on the U.S. Men's National Under-18 Team that won bronze last April, notching four goals and nine points in seven games, Mittelstadt pulled on the Team USA jersey again in August for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. There, he scored three goals and seven points in four games as the Americans took home silver.
His next stage was the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game for the top-rated American draft-eligible players in Philadelphia on Sept. 22, where Mittelstadt scored two goals for Team Howe to earn Most Valuable Player honors.
Mittelstadt receives MVP honors from Flyers' head coach Dave Hakstol
Mittelstadt then played the first 16 games of the year with the Gamblers, scoring 22 points, before returning home to Eden Prairie for the high school season. As expected, Mittelstadt dominated at that level, piling up 21 goals and 64 points in 25 games for which he earned the prestigious Mr. Hockey Award as the top high school player in the state.
“I think anytime time you move away from home, it’s a little bit of a learning experience,” he said. “I was really lucky how the guys in Green Bay welcomed me with open arms and the coaching staff was great about it. I was excited to go back (to Eden Prairie) and try for one more year, and then to get back to Green Bay in the spring, that went great and they all welcomed me back again with open arms. The coach gave me the same chance as everyone, so it was really a very good experience, and if I had to do it all over again, I would do the same exact thing.”
Mittelstadt returned to the USHL without missing a beat, scoring six goals and eight points in the final eight games, seven of which were victories, as the Gamblers made a late push for the playoffs, falling just two points shy of the final postseason berth. Mittelstadt finished the season with 13 goals and 30 points in 24 games for a USHL-leading 1.25 points-per-game average.
After that, Mittelstadt participated in the NHL's Scouting Combine in Buffalo in early June before being one of just four prospects the NHL invited to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in Nashville.
The most memorable part of the combine was all the interviews he did with NHL teams’ management groups, which could be an intimidating experience for an 18-year-old, but Mittelstadt handled it just fine.
“I don’t think it was too bad, you just try to go in there and be yourself,” Mittelstadt said. “Really, I think the most important thing is to be honest with them. I don’t think there was any need to really lie or anything, or act like someone you’re not."
Getting the chance to witness the spectacle of the Stanley Cup Final in Nashville was also an unforgettable experience. The best part of it, though, was that he and the other top prospects (Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier and Gabe Vilardi) also got to meet the players from the Penguins and Predators, including Mittelstadt’s hero, Crosby.
“It was a dream come true to go there and be able to meet a lot of the guys and watch the game,” Mittelstadt said. “We got to hang out in the locker room at morning skate, so we ended up meeting pretty much all of the players. We got to meet (Crosby). He’s my favorite player, that was a dream come true, so that was probably the highlight of the trip for me."
And there will undoubtedly be a lot more excitement between now and then. Mittelstadt, a lifelong Gophers fan, is thrilled to be enrolling at the University of Minnesota this fall.
“I’m a typical Minnesota kid, so being able to become a Gopher will be a dream come true,” Mittelstadt said. “We should have a really good group of guys and a good team, so I’m definitely looking forward to it and I’m ready to get in and get started.”
As draft day approaches in Chicago, don’t expect Mittelstadt to have trouble sleeping Thursday night.
“I’m not really one to get too high or too low, so we’ll see,” he said. “I’ll probably just try to keep it mellow and I don’t think it’ll be anything too stressful. We’ll just try to be excited and roll with what happens."
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.