It's premature to judge a prospect off of his performance at a summer development camp, let alone a 3-on-3 tournament. But if Tuesday was Casey Mittelstadt's first impression on the Sabres fans who packed the stands at HarborCenter, you can't blame them for being impressed.
Mittelstadt, the eighth overall selection in last month's NHL Draft, was one of the most dynamic players on the ice in the annual French Connection 3-on-3 Tournament. He showed his quick hands and work ethic, and along with Rasmus Asplund and Hudson Fasching, helped the team dressed in white to a tournament victory to conclude the four-day camp.
"I think everyone wants to come out and play well," Mittelstadt said. "But I think it's important to come out and take everything in, try to develop to become a better player, take things home with you that you need to work on. I definitely found some things that I need to work on but I think I did well."
Video: MITTELSTADT: Post Dev Camp Day 4
The format for this tournament was different from years past, with four larger teams competing in seven-minute, full-ice games. Nicholas Baptiste and Brendan Guhle led the Gold Team, which finished second. Justin Bailey and Cliff Pu's Blue Team won the consolation game against Alexander Nylander's Gray Team, which was one of the better squads during the six-game round-robin.
The only squad to go undefeated, though, was the White Team. Fasching looked the part of a veteran, often controlling possession when he was on the ice. Asplund scored multiple goals, and at the end of the day received the Craig Ramsay Award as the hardest worker at development camp. Erik Autio, a camp invite out of Penn. State University, tallied three goals as well.
Mittelstadt, meanwhile, made the highlight reel on multiple occasions. There was this play, which was cut short by the buzzer:
Then there was this one, which wasn't:
"This is the first time I've seen Casey play, and I think he's one of the better players I've ever seen play," Asplund said. "He's so shifty and he's so hard to play against. I got to play with him today."
As fun as the tournament was, general manager Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley said they were more enthused about what they saw off the ice throughout the week. Camp veterans such as Bailey, Baptiste and Fasching brought energy and enthusiasm. The development staff, meanwhile, put the prospects through drills that ranged from physical testing to team-building activities like cooking (yes, cooking).
"It's summer hockey," Botterill said. "Some guys have been on the ice, some guys haven't. What we really like though is just the enthusiasm, the work ethic of guys through the drills and keeping an open mind for skill development, but then just the interaction they had with our staff on the off-ice side. That's where you're going to get the most out of development camp."
"I thought it was great," Housley added. "Just trying to get to know the kids and all the different personalities at development camp, I thought our development group did a great job mixing it up a little bit, keeping it fresh. Even the things off-ice, it's all about them learning to become a pro. I thought our development camp staff did a great job."
The prospects, meanwhile, got a feel for the direction of the organization under Botterill and Housley. All throughout the week, players complimented the upbeat atmosphere and level of communication at camp.
Now, the players will go in their separate ways - Mittelstadt to the NCAA, Asplund back to Sweden, Fasching to his second pro season - with a camp's worth of information to build on.
"Buffalo is the team that drafted me and it's the team I want to play for some day," Asplund said. "I'm going to take all the information they give me, try to work on it and take it back with me home."
Here are some more sights and sounds from Day 4 to wrap up development camp.
Look at Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
The 6-foot-4-inch goaltender stood out throughout the week both for his tremendous size and his bright orange pads, but he really shined with a few highlight-reel saves in the French Connection Tournament. The best may have been this glove save in the semifinal game:
Botterill sees progress in Nylander
Video: NYLANDER: Post Dev Camp Day 4
Nylander said earlier in camp that he had already added some size and strength during the offseason, and Botterill concurred with that assessment on Tuesday.
"I think another element is you always want to see first-year guys make that jump to their second year, learn from everything you went through in your pro experience," he said. "I think in Nylander's situation there, he's put a lot of work in so far this year. It's only mid-summer, so we're very excited about what could happen in September, October when he gets on the ice for the main camp."
What's development camp without Vasily Glotov?
The seventh-round pick from 2016 stole the show with his personality a year ago. This time around, he stole it with this goal, which was arguably the best of the tournament. Then, he dabbed.