Making the case for Casey Mittelstadt to center the top line in second half of 2023-24

While the Buffalo Sabres currently have a potentially lethal top-six when they have chemistry, the time may have come for Casey Mittelstadt to join them.

Dec 9, 2023; Buffalo, New York, USA;  Buffalo Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt (37) waits for the
Dec 9, 2023; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt (37) waits for the / Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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Casey Mittelstadt has proven that he can and will play like the former eighth overall pick the Buffalo Sabres made him back in 2017. Mittelstadt is once again enjoying an outstanding year, and it’s a continuation from what he started in late 2022. 

But last season, many in the Sabrehood were ready to move on from Mittelstadt. Even when he started producing, it wasn’t uncommon to hear many throw around the phrase “trade value.” Yeah, even when Mittelstadt improved, a contingent of fans still didn’t want him in a blue and gold uniform. Given his meager production between 2018 and 2022, it’s hard to blame them. 

But now, especially following last night’s loss to the Seattle Kraken, you can’t help but wonder whether Mittelstadt is a better fit for the Sabres top line moving forward. This isn’t a knock on Tage Thompson, who has played well for the most part - though last night was a different story. Instead, it’s a testament to how well Mittelstadt is playing, and the chemistry he’s built when centering Skinner and Tuch in the past. 

Buffalo Sabres would be wise to put Mittelstadt on the top line

At this point in 2023-24, the Sabres need to realize their margin of error is zero. They lost 20 games in regulation, and the only way they’re making the playoffs is if they finish something like 25-10-6, which would give them a record of 42-30-10 (94 points). To reach those seemingly impossible expectations, they need to put themselves in the best position to score, and Mittelstadt does that. 

You have a pair of prolific shooters in Skinner and Tuch, both of whom rank among the top six on the team with the former leading the way. Skinner also has a 12.7 shooting percentage, which ranks third among Sabres skaters with 30 or more games played this season. 

Mittelstadt is their best passer and it shows with his 24 assists, even if he can stand to pass a little less and shoot a bit more. With an average time on ice of 18:48, Mittelstadt is also proving he can play top-line minutes, and the mark is second among forwards.

Overall, the Buffalo Sabres need to put their three most productive forwards on the top line from here on out, and that includes Mittelstadt. Tage can drop to the second line and center JJ Peterka and Jack Quinn while the ineffective Cozens could likely slide into the third. Mittelstadt has earned the right to center the top line, and as the team’s most productive forward, he gives them the best chance to win when there is no margin of error here.

Update: Jeff Skinner may miss some time with an injury, so if this is the case, the alternative would be to bump Tage out to wing on the first while Mittelstadt centers.

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(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)