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Sabres Grades: Casey Mittelstadt, Kyle Okposo, and Erik Johnson

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Casey Mittelstadt Buffalo Sabres grades

Two former Buffalo Sabres from this past season are still alive in the playoffs, with Casey Mittelstadt’s Colorado Avalanche and Kyle Okposo’s Florida Panthers coming off big first-round wins as we dig into the Sabres Grades for the trade casualties. Mittelstadt, Okposo, and Erik Johnson were all traded away by General Manager Kevyn Adams on or near trade deadline day as the team shifted its focus toward the future.

The Sabres’ returns in the three deals will be discussed another day. For now, let’s focus on just how well each of the three performed for Buffalo before switching area codes.

The Grading System

If you missed the introduction to the grading system, I’ve assigned letter grades to each Buffalo player based on game performance. The letter grades are assigned based on statistical computation, taking into account the following factors:

  • Production
  • Quality of offense
  • Quality of defense
  • Volume of offense
  • Volume of defense
  • Powerplay performance
  • Penalty kill performance
  • Penalties drawn and taken
  • Role
  • Minutes played

It’s important to understand that these player performance grades are solely based on the algorithm created, with the one exception being a game shortened by injury. A player who missed significant ice time due to injury was not docked for fewer minutes played. This eliminates the confusion of how well a player performs when available.

Also, a big thanks to Evolving-Hockey for the individual game data. They’re among the best in the business.

Here’s the grading scale in table form, for reference:

GradeLower LimitUpper Limit
A+92%100%
A85%92%
A-77%85%
B+69%77%
B62%69%
B-54%62%
C+46%54%
C38%46%
C-31%38%
D+23%31%
D15%23%
D-8%15%
F0%8%

Previous Sabres Grades: Prospects and Depth

On the surface, we know that Mittelstadt was leading the Sabres in points when he was traded. Okposo was their team captain. Johnson was brought in for his playoff experience as defensive depth. Thanks to Sabres Grades, we can properly assess what the Sabres lost as assets. Let’s work from lowest-graded to highest.

Erik Johnson

Erik Johnson Buffalo Sabres grades

Erik Johnson was the second-most consistent Sabres player this season. When he was on the ice, you knew what you were getting. Unfortunately, what the Sabres were getting wasn’t all that good.

Season Summary

Erik Johnson 2023-2024 season grades Buffalo Sabres

Johnson averaged a “D+” grade, the worst of any Sabres player with more than 10 games played this past season. The first two months in particular were bad for the veteran defenseman. An adjustment to a new team can be tough, and, notably, the Sabres play more of a zone defensive-coverage system compared to the Colorado Avalanche’s man-on-man. Still, as a third-pair defenseman, the Sabres expected better numbers from the former first-overall draft pick.

Grade Distribution

Erik Johnson grade distribution

As far as the grading system goes, since Johnson was subject to limited minutes each night, his ceiling was only so high. He did receive boosts for being trotted out in defensive zone starts much of the time. Buffalo’s penalty kill, which Johnson was a big part of, didn’t begin to turn things around until the end of his tenure. This left him in a position where the main areas he could contribute were hindered, whether that was his fault or had something to do with his correlated teammates.

Erik Johnson grade distribution 1st half Buffalo SabresErik Johnson grade distribution 2nd half Buffalo Sabres

Through Buffalo’s first 41 games, Johnson had a “bust” percentage of about 49%. He posted some higher scores relatively in the second half of the season but still had a “bust” percentage of 50%. Again, the consistency was there, but you’d prefer to see some spike games from a once highly-regarded defenseman.

Player Comps

Erik Johnson player comps

As far as individual attributes go, Johnson has the qualities of a stay-at-home, bottom-pairing defenseman. His closest comparable players around the league range in effectiveness at the role, suggesting that it may be a product of the fit rather than the player. If that’s the case, the Sabres did well to move on from the unrestricted free agent before the expiration of his contract. Receiving the 109th pick in the upcoming draft for a replaceable, expiring asset was a great move.

Kyle Okposo

Kyle Okposo Buffalo Sabres grades

The evolution of Kyle Okposo from a scorer to a grinder took place a few seasons ago. The transition elongated his career, molding him into a bottom-six mainstay. When the Sabres traded Okposo this past season, he was still a useful player.

Player Comps

Kyle Okposo player comps

Now, comparisons to versatile players like Trevor Moore, Alex Iafallo, and Jake DeBrusk are by attributes only. In a lot of ways, Okposo is a lesser version of those players at this point in his career. Still, he’s a 76th-percentile defender in the NHL and can still contribute to the powerplay.

Season Summary

Kyle Okposo 2023-2024 season grades

A consistent season for Okposo reflects that you know what you’re getting from him each night. Zero “boom” games (A- or better) are a letdown for any player, although Okposo’s limited minutes and role at even strength don’t allow for much opportunity to produce. His best game of the season was on November 27th in a win against the New York Rangers, where he scored on three shots and had “B” quality chances for and against.

Grade Distribution

Kyle Okposo Buffalo Sabres grade distribution

The grade distribution for Okposo isn’t great, but the argument in his favor will always be the impact he has on the locker room. The team captain was a veteran, almost father-like figure for the league’s youngest team. His leadership and dependability were his biggest contributions to the 2023-2024 Buffalo Sabres.

Kyle Okposo grade distribution 1st halfKyle Okposo grade distribution 2nd half

With an expiring contract, it was no surprise to see the Sabres ship Okposo to a contender at the trade deadline. The compensation was a minor league defenseman (Calle Sjalin) and a conditional 7th-round pick that can become a 5th if the Florida Panthers win the Stanley Cup. It’s not a big return, but the move was more about doing the right thing by the player to get some goodwill across NHL circles.

That’s why grading Okposo is so tough. The hard numbers suggest one thing, while the human element is the biggest factor.

Casey Mittelstadt

Casey Mittelstadt Buffalo Sabres grades

Season Summary

Casey Mittelstadt Buffalo Sabres season grades

The Buffalo Sabres sold Casey Mittelstadt high amid a career season. Countless times throughout the season, Mittelstadt stepped up as the Sabres’ top center and drove the offense at even strength almost single-handedly. Early on, 25% of his games were “boom” performances, earning an “A-” grade or better.

Grade Distribution

Casey Mittelstadt grade distribution 1st halfCasey Mittelstadt grade distribution 2nd half

The second half of the season was a bit different of a tale. As Tage Thompson’s health and performance improved, Mittelstadt was relegated to more of a third-line center role. As a result, his linemates were not nearly the same scoring caliber as JJ Peterka or Alex Tuch. The “boom” games went away, and, while he was still a well above-average performer, the game-changing performances were not there.

Casey Mittelstadt grade distribution

Ideally, this is a solid grade distribution for what the Sabres need from a Mittelstadt replacement. Only 19% of his games were below average, with one “bust” game. This means that 81% of his games were average or better. The 19% “boom” rate provides plenty of upside, which is the individual effort that wins games for a team.

Player Comps

Casey Mittelstadt player comps

As a strictly offensive-focused player, Mittelstadt has been a nice fit in Colorado. As a restricted free agent, he’s due for a significant pay raise with the Avalanche or whichever team has his rights this summer. The idea that three of the top five most similar players to Mittelstadt are Nashville predators forwards suggests he’d be a great fit in Andrew Brunette’s system. Gustav Nyquist in particular revitalized his career this past season with the Preds.

Ironically, the Sabres will also be looking to fill his role this summer after trading him for defenseman Bowen Byram. We’ll get to Byram in the Sabres Grades countdown, but the move was made with the present and future in mind. If the Sabres can find someone sufficient in a middle-six center role for a little bit cheaper while bolstering the defense with Byram, Kevyn Adams will come out on top with this deal.

Acquiring a third-line center will be a big topic this offseason. The argument will be whether looking for an offensive or defensive-minded player is the right route. Either way, Mittelstadt left some big shoes to fill.

 

Previous Sabres Season Grades

Prospects and Depth

Casey Mittelstadt, Kyle Okposo, and Erik Johnson

24. Jacob Bryson

23. Tyson Jost

22. Victor Olofsson

21. Eric Robinson

20. Ryan Johnson

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