After coming in as a highly touted recruit, Casey Mittelstadt has proven himself at the Division I level

Mittelstadt is the highest Gophers NHL draft pick in 11 years.

Forward Casey Mittelstadt follows the puck in the Gophers' game against Penn State on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The Gophers won 6-3.

Jack Rodgers

Forward Casey Mittelstadt follows the puck in the Gophers’ game against Penn State on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The Gophers won 6-3.

Drew Cove

One of the Gophers’ top scoring threats this season has been a 18-year-old freshman.

Forward Casey Mittelstadt is second on the team in scoring with seven points this season. The Gophers are 5-3-0 now in the early season, and the team faces off against Michigan State this weekend, their first nonranked opponent.  

“[I’m] just learning little things away from the puck, and a little bit of stuff defensively,” Mittelstadt said. “I think I’ve definitely improved, and [I’ll] try to continue to grow.”

The freshman had an interesting year before coming to Minnesota.

After playing both high school hockey for Eden Prairie and in the United States Hockey league for the Green Bay Gamblers last season, the forward’s success in both leagues led him to be drafted eighth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres.

Now, Mittelstadt has come to his first year of college hockey and has already made an impact.

“He’s a guy that needs the puck on his stick,” said freshman Scott Reedy. “[I’m] finding him in the open areas and getting open because I know he can find me whether he’s looking at me or not.” 

Mittelstadt has also been on the most effective line for the team.

The line with Reedy, Mittelstadt and sophomore Rem Pitlick is reponsible for seven goals and 10 assists. Beyond the statistics, they have controlled the puck and kept pressure in the offensive zone when other lines haven’t.

“I think we’re still a work in progress,” Reedy said. “We have some natural chemistry, [and we] complement each other’s game pretty well.”

Mittelstadt is the highest drafted Gophers skater since 2006. Although he was drafted to the pros, he is still figuring out the college game and is he is only seven games into his collegiate career.

“You can’t teach the skill, you can’t teach the speed, you can’t teach the hockey sense,” said head coach Don Lucia. “Strength is going to come, because he’s more than willing to work at it, which is nice with him, he’s more competitive than I thought.”

Much was made of Mittelstadt’s strength coming into the season, but Lucia said Mittelstadt’s shoulder was out of alignment when he got to Minnesota, and strength and conditioning coach Cal Dietz has worked with the Eden Prairie, Minnesota native on shoulder motion and getting stronger.

Minnesota’s own strength this season has been scoring from the younger players, and according to Lucia, Mittelstadt’s responsibility and scoring affects the older ones.

“I don’t think it made it harder on him, I think it made it harder on the veterans,” Lucia said. “Our veteran forwards, they’re the ones that have to start scoring for us.”

Lucia said his older players aren’t scoring, but the production from Mittelstadt and the rest of his line has produced good results for the Gophers so far.

Mittelstadt shows it when he isn’t happy with his own play, and Lucia said that indicates his will.

“He gets upset, you hear him. He vocalizes [when he’s mad at himself],” Lucia said. “He has high expectations for himself, but he’s a freshman.”