PHILADELPHIA -- Center Casey Mittelstadt believes the stigma sometimes associated with highly regarded high school hockey players entering their NHL Draft year should be a thing of the past.
Mittelstadt (6-foot, 201 pounds) proved it against his peers Thursday when he scored two goals for Team Mark Howe and was named most valuable player despite a 6-4 loss to Team John Leclair in the fifth CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at Wells Fargo Center.
Entering his senior year at Eden Prairie High School (Minnesota), Mittelstadt, 17, could be the best high school player available for the 2017 NHL Draft. Last season he had 21 points in six playoff games but the Eagles lost to Wayzata in the Class AA Championship game at Xcel Energy Center.
"I think a lot of people question [high school players] but ultimately it comes down to the player and making the best decision for myself and I think I made the right one (returning to Eden Prairie for his senior year)," Mittelstadt said. "I guess if a team questions players in high school, it means I just need to continue to perform well in the United States Hockey League when I get the chance or impress in events like the All-American Prospects Game."
Mittelstadt will play with Green Bay in the USHL before and after the high school season. He will be in the lineup for Green Bay on Friday when the Gamblers host Madison, and will play 10 more games in the USHL before joining his teammates at Eden Prairie for the start of the high school season. He scored 33 goals and 80 points last season for Eden Prairie and was named the Associated Press Player of the Year in Minnesota.
"You can see the ability of all these kids," Mark Howe said. "Most all of them can skate really well and they showed tremendous character."
Mittelstadt had three shots and a plus-2 rating playing on the top line with left wing Patrick Khodorenko (Michigan State University, Big Ten) and right wing Kailer Yamamoto (Spokane, Western Hockey League).
Mittelstadt said he and Yamamoto have played together several times before.
"He's good; he's really good," Yamamoto said of Mittelstadt. "I think this year when he plays in Green Bay he's definitely going to tear it up and show all the scouts he belongs."
Brannon McManus (Omaha, USHL), a native of Newport Beach, California, had one goal and three points for Team Leclair. Defenseman Nate Knoepke (USNTDP, USHL), right wing Ivan Lodnia (Erie, Ontario Hockey League), center Grant Mismash (USNTDP, USHL), center Alexander Chmelevski (Ottawa, OHL) and center Logan Hutsko (USNTDP, USHL) each scored, and defenseman Tyler Inamoto (USNTDP, USHL) had two assists for Team Leclair. Hutsko scored 6:54 into the third to give Team Leclair a 5-3 lead.
"McManus and Lodnia had very nice snipes and good shots, but the skill and speed level was high in moving the puck and feet; they are all talented kids," Leclair said.
Left wing Jason Robertson (Kingston, OHL) and right wing Logan Cockerill (USNTDP, USHL) scored and Yamamoto had two assists for Team Howe.
Goaltenders Jake Oettinger (Boston University) and Cayden Primeau (Lincoln, USHL) combined for 29 saves for Team Leclair. Oettinger made 12 saves on 14 shots and Primeau had 17 saves on 19 shots. Adam Scheel (USNTDP, USHL) made four saves, and Keith Petruzzelli (Muskegon, USHL) had 11 saves for Team Howe.
The All-American Prospects Game featured 42 of the best United States-born players eligible for the 2017 draft, 35 of whom were recognized on the 2016-17 NHL Central Scouting Futures List that highlights players projected to be chosen in the opening three rounds of the draft.
The All-American Prospects Game has seen 102 players drafted by NHL teams in the past four seasons, including 25 first-round selections. Left wing Matthew Tkachuk, taken with the No. 6 pick by the Calgary Flames in the 2016 draft, was the highest-selected player who skated in last year's game.
"They were all respectful of their peers and respectful of the game, and you can tell the players are really driven to succeed," Howe said. "It's the drive and compete level that I look for. They all earned this spot to play. To get a spot in this game is a tribute to them."