Yesterday, the Canadian Hockey League announced their leadership group for Team OHL during the Ontario leg of the Canada/Russia series, naming Tampa Bay prospect Mitchell Stephens the captain. While Stephens will captain the team for both games, fellow Lightning 2015 draft picks, Anthony Cirelli and Matt Spencer will serve as alternate captains for tonight’s game in North Bay.
All three players were in attendance during Hockey Canada’s summer evaluation camp and each will look to have a strong showing over the two-game set with Russia in hopes of making the final roster for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship.
It’s no surprise that Stephens was named team captain, as the Saginaw Spirit forward has been a mainstay for Hockey Canada since he was 15. As a returning player, Stephens is a virtual lock to be on Team Canada next month and will likely end up with a letter on his jersey there too. The 33rd overall pick two drafts ago played a bottom-6 role for Canada last season but with big names like Marner, Konecny, Crouse and Strome likely unavailable this year, Stephens will be looked upon to be one of the leaders for Canada.
Playing on a bad Saginaw team, Stephens is one of the more underrated players in the OHL. He is a great two-way player and has a well above average offensive game that isn’t necessarily reflected by his point production.
Joining Stephens up front for Team OHL is Oshawa Generals captain, Anthony Cirelli – a very underrated prospect in his own right. Cirelli will look to impress Hockey Canada in the two games against Russia since he is likely on the bubble for the World Junior team. Cirelli has been on fire so far this season with 23 points in only 14 games and he currently sits fifth in the OHL with nine 5v5 goals. His hot start in Oshawa, and ability to play both center and wing makes Cirelli a strong contender to crack team Canada.
The third Lightning prospect on Team OHL is Matt Spencer – a two-way defender from Peterborough. Like Cirelli, Spencer will be looking to open some eyes this week as a stepping stone toward a World Junior roster spot. He is a very smart defender, that has elite hockey instincts and thrives while playing big minutes. If I were a betting man, I’d pencil Spencer in with Noah Juulsen and Dante Fabbro on the right side for Team Canada.
It won’t just be the three with letters on their jersey representing the Bolts this week. 2016 second rounders Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh will be suiting up for Team OHL as they face the Russians.
The five OHLers will look to have a stronger showing than fellow Lightning prospect Connor Ingram who had a bit of a rough start for Team WHL against the Russians on Monday. Ingram only made 18 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss. He allowed only two goals in regulation, but both were very weak scoring chances that you would like to see kept out of the net.
Add Mathieu Joseph to Team QMJHL and the injured Brett Howden being named to Team WHL and you’ve got more Tampa Bay Lightning prospects participating in the Canada/Russia series than any other NHL franchise. The presence of so many youngsters during these All-Star games is a testament to how well Steve Yzerman and the Lightning front office have drafted – especially without having any early picks.
Put this group of legitimate prospects with the emergence of budding star Brayden Points and the window for contention might be open for a very long time in Tampa Bay.