World Juniors reviews of Mittelstadt, Nylander
In a season of gloom and doom, some much needed optimism for Sabres fans arrived when the World Juniors came to town. There was plenty of hype around Casey Mittelstadt entering the tournament, and some cautious hope that Alex Nylander could showcase some skill after a rough start to his pro career. And while neither of their respective nations could capture gold, there was enough there to at least capture the imagination of what the future could hold.
It’s easy to get carried away by performances at tournaments such as the World Juniors. It’s a collection of some of the best young talent in the world, but it’s important to remember that it is a small sample size.
Mittelstadt stole the spotlight throughout most of this tournament. And while the points aren’t piling up for Nylander, the talent is certainly there for both he and Mittelstadt to be effective top-six forwards at the NHL level.
A common theme throughout this tournament was that Nylander just didn’t have enough ‘fire’ to his game. As much as I’m not big on the blue collar approach to the game (the same one used by fans against Jack Eichel), it was hard to argue against this. Early in the tournament, Nylander looked like he didn’t want to be there. This perhaps could be explained by poor fitness resulting from a groin injury that basically undid a summers worth of work, but not enough to justify the lack of effort in general. His drive seemed to jump in the elimination games but it’s still a cause for concern. It’s one thing to be a one-way winger who may not have good awareness away from the puck, but it’s another to simply not be hungry for it. Perhaps Nylander can change this approach with more time in Rochester, but for now I wouldn’t pencil him in for a late season call up.
Mittelstadt was coming into this tournament off to a great start to his college career. Despite the fact that his 5v5 numbers weren’t anything to write home about during his draft year, he’s off to a great start this season in that regard, ranking near the top of the NCAA in 5v5 points for rookies.
Something to consider, though, is that Mittelstadt’s tournament wasn’t all that different than Nylander’s last year. If you recall, Nylander was on fire during the preliminary round but didn’t show up for the big games. That’s not to say that Mittelstadt was absent during the US loss to Sweden, but it was pretty apparent that as the pressure built up, he began to force a lot of plays. For him to become the Kucherov to Eichel’s Stamkos, he’ll need to a better job than he did in that game, where he was a turnover machine.
Both players performed about how you would expect from former 8th overall picks. They showed plenty of talent, but there is definitely room to grow. Mittelstadt has captured the hearts of the fan base in Buffalo, and it’s well deserved. And while there is some skepticism circling around Nylander, it’s important to manage expectations. Both prospects have plenty of work to do to become permanent fixtures as top-six forwards with the Sabres, but the potential is there.