ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago on June 23-24. Casey Mittelstadt is the No. 3-ranked North American skater on the NHL Central Scouting's final rankings list. The Avalanche has the fourth overall selection at the draft.
Casey Mittelstadt's road to the 2017 NHL Draft is one not often taken for a top prospect. While he has had the skill and talent to play for elite teams, the 18-year-old instead chose to play for his high school, the Eden Prairie Eagles, and compete for the state title.
The high school championship in Minnesota is like the Stanley Cup of the NHL. It is played in front of a packed crowd at the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul, something even the NHL's Minnesota Wild have not always been able to do.
"It almost becomes equal to the Stanley Cup--and I don't mean that to minimize the Stanley Cup--but growing up there, it becomes pretty close to that," Mittelstadt told reporters while at Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final with other top draft prospects on June 5.
During the season with the Eagles, Mittelstadt excelled as a center. He averaged 2.56 points per game and ended the 25-contest season with 21 goals and 43 assists for 64 points. His performance earned him the "Mr. Hockey" award, given to the best high school player in Minnesota.
Video: Altitude profiles Casey Mittselstadt
Mittelstadt recently attended the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, but it may not have helped his draft stock. There is worry about his size and strength after a disappointing fitness test that saw him complete only a single 160-pound rep on bench press and struggle to complete just one pull up.
However, Mittelstadt isn't fazed.
"I try to work on being a hockey player; I don't try to work on my bench press or pull-ups," Mittelstadt said in a post-combine interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I want to be a hockey player and that's what I train to do. I think it's good to be strong, and I think there are things I can get stronger at and work on, but I don't think being able to do a pull-up is going to make me be able to handle the puck better or be a better shooter."
Video: Mittelstadt discusses challenging combine tests
His on-ice talents showed elsewhere than just with Eden Prairie. The center did choose to split his 2016-17 campaign between the Eagles and with the United States Hockey League's Green Bay Gamblers. He registered 30 points by scoring 13 goals and 17 assists in just 24 games, making for an impressive 1.25 point-per-game average with the Gamblers.
He has had experience on the international stage, too. During the 2015-16 season, Mittelstadt played with the bronze-medal winning United States squad at the IIHF U18 World Championship, where he put up four goals and five assists in seven games.
Also during that year, Mittelstadt spent time between the United States National Team Development Program and his high school. For USA, he collected 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 13 contests, while he led Eden Prairie with 22 goals and 37 assists for 59 points.
Mittelstadt was an important aspect of the U.S. lineup at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament as well, finishing with three goals and four assists in seven games. This tied him with teammate and fellow draft prospect Kailer Yamamoto for scoring at the event.
With all of his success so far, he seems deserving of being ranked third on NHL Central Scouting's final North American skater list.
"Mittelstadt is one of these anomalies that come along every few years [from high school hockey]," said head of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr. "We've watched him play against his peers in international tournaments and have seen him play in the USHL and at various camps, and he always makes a difference. It doesn't really matter where he plays because you get the same game from him no matter the environment."
The 6-foot-1, 201-pound star has had plans to play for the University of Minnesota since he was a bantam player, and he is looking forward to playing his first season with the Gophers come this fall.
So while Mittelstadt won't play in the NHL next year, he will be at a top NCAA program and his talent alone is enticing enough for a top draft pick.
This is just the beginning for Mittelstadt. He is on the road less traveled, but doing so has made all the difference, possibly paving the way for a strong future in hockey.