EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota has produced an awful lot of talented hockey players over the years, but it’s been a while since there’s been one this good.
Eden Prairie’s Casey Mittelstadt hasn’t even graduated high school yet, and is already expected to have a long and productive NHL career ahead of him.
Let’s put it this way: Mittelstadt is so good he could be playing for the Gophers right now.
“The way he handles the puck, with speed, the way he utilizes his teammates,” Eagles coach Lee Smith said. “The way he can make plays and think the game above the other kids.”
Last year in the state tournament, Mittelstadt scored five goals and had seven assists in just those three games alone.
But Eden Prairie didn’t win it, falling in the state championship game to Wayzata.
Most figured that was curtains for Mittelstadt’s high school career. He’d taken extra credits so he could finish early and enroll at Minnesota a year early.
Then he changed his mind.
“It was towards the end of the spring, and he sent me a text and said, can we talk?” Smith said. “And I called him, and we got together and we talked. And he said, I really want to come back and be part of it. And obviously right away there was jubilation in knowing that he was coming back to lead our team.”
“Obviously losing last year in the state final hurts,” Mittelstadt said. “But I think the main reason I came back is just because you get to play with the buddies one more year. We all fell in love with the game together, so I think one more year with them is definitely worth it.”
So here it is, his one last shot, to try to win that coveted state title. And — maybe more importantly — one last chance to play with his childhood friends.
“I’ve never really rushed anything,” Mittelstadt said. “I think once you get there, you’ll get there. And hopefully you can win stuff there. But might as well win where you are now.”
Mittelstadt is considered the best to come out of Minnesota in a decade or more — expected to be drafted this summer higher than any Minnesotan since Erik Johnson went No. 1 overall in 2006. Even higher than two who followed the Eden Prairie to Minnesota to NHL path already — Kyle Rau and Nick Leddy.
“He’s got every bit the talent and the internal drive that they had,” Smith said. “That’s the thing that’s beautiful about him, is his drive to become better. That’s what Rau had, that’s what Leddy had… I guess the biggest thing is, he’s gotta prove it yet, I guess. The other guys are a known commodity.”
Mittelstadt doesn’t buy the notion that he held himself back developmentally by staying in high school instead of moving on to college.
“Obviously people say that a lot,” Mittelstadt said. “But I honestly don’t think it really hurts either way. It’s five more months and you’re playing with the kids you’ve played with growing up your whole life. And it’s still really good hockey, and I think people kind of underestimate how good the hockey is here… It’s just being a Minnesota kid, you kind of get attached to it a little bit growing up and going and watching it all the time.”
Which is why, he says, even if they don’t win the title, he wouldn’t give this year back for anything.
“I’m having the time of my life,” Mittelstadt said. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Eden Prairie plays Holy Family in the section championship game on Wednesday night.