The Tampa Bay Lightning have recalled Mitchell Stephens from the Syracuse Crunch ahead of their game tonight against the Ottawa Senators. Stephens made his NHL debut on 12/9 against the New York Islanders after Tyler Johnson was injured in the previous game. He has played in four games for the Lightning this season registering five shots on goal, no points, and averaging just 7:49 TOI.
I was a bit surprised that the Lightning sent Stephens back to the Crunch after Saturday’s loss against the Washington Capitals. During that game, Nikita Kucherov blocked a shot that hobbled him and forced him to leave the game. Since then, we’ve learned that Kucherov is day-to-day. We’re hopeful that his day-to-day designation means that nothing is broken and that he’s just bruised and sore enough that it’s keeping him out of the line up.
The indications at practice yesterday were that Tyler Johnson was ready to return to the line up. With Stephens’ re-assignment, it was looking like the Lightning would go back to a 11 forward and seven defensemen alignment. Now that Stephens is back up with the big club, I’d guess he’ll be playing.
During his four games with the Lightning, Stephens has mostly played with Carter Verhaeghe and Mathieu Joseph on the fourth line. Stephens’ play has looked a little up and down during these four games which is not a surprise for a rookie getting his first taste of NHL action against four very tough opponents in the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, and Washington Capitals.
Overall, his possession stats have looked fairly even. His line has gotten bitten by some bad luck and defensive breakdowns that have seen four goals go in the net behind them while they haven’t gotten one of their own.
One very bright spot in Stephens’ game is in the faceoff dot. He went 13-3 in faceoffs through his first three games before going 5-5 against the Capitals for an overall 18-8. Jon Cooper even showed some confidence in the youngster, sending him out for a shorthanded faceoff draw that he won. The puck was then contested along the boards and Stephens dug the puck out and cleared it before heading to the bench for a change.