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Tampa Bay Lightning assign Mathieu Joseph to Syracuse Crunch

I didn’t expect it, but I’m not surprised by it.

Ottawa Senators v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning have assigned Mathieu Joseph to the Syracuse Crunch ahead of the Lightning’s game tonight against the Dallas Stars. Joseph has struggled so far this season only scoring four goals and seven points through 31 games. This offensive performance was far off of his pace he set last year as a rookie when he scored 13 goals and 26 points in 70 games played.

Joseph was a healthy scratch last week against the New York Islanders with Mitchell Stephens and Cory Conacher getting the nod ahead of him. The next night, Joseph was back in the line up with Conacher being sent back to the Crunch. It was an obvious move by the coaching staff to send a message that he needs to play better.

I have noticed two big differences in his game this season. First, he’s using his speed less to disrupt on the forecheck. As a rookie, he was surprising many defensemen with his speed in getting to them behind the net. He was disruptive and was good at getting the puck turned over. He also utilized his speed to get on the rush and take shots often. Even with his 13 goals last season, I had questions about his hands and he has missed the net often. He has produced 7.46 unblocked shot attempts per 60 this season, but has missed the net on 37.8% of those shots. The league average is closer to the 25% mark.

He is also shooting the puck less this season going from 12.64 iCF60 at 5v5 to 9.99 this season. That is the third worst on the team among forwards with at least 50 minutes TOI only ahead of Anthony Cirelli and Luke Witkowski. His defense has actually remained pretty good, sporting the lowest xGA60 among Lightning forwards. He fares about the same in shots against. The Lightning’s shot rates are lower in both directions when Joseph is on the ice leading to generally good possession percentages and the 2nd best xGF%. But when it comes to the results on the ice, he’s near the bottom in GF%.

Despite the message sending of his healthy scratch against the Islanders, he hasn’t done much in the past four games. He hasn’t recorded a point, and he’s only recorded one shot on goal while averaging just 9:06 TOI. Because Joseph hasn’t been in the NHL long enough, he was still waiver exempt and could be sent to the Syracuse Crunch without requiring waivers.

This is also a sign that the team wants to see more of Mitchell Stephens. He was sent down after the Washington Capitals game last Saturday, but was then brought back up prior to the Ottawa Senators game on Tuesday. He didn’t play against the Senators with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov both being good to go for that game and Joseph getting the nod over him. Now with Joseph spending at least a few days, if not longer, in the AHL, Stephens should be getting an opportunity to play with Tyler Johnson and Carter Verhaeghe if Jon Cooper doesn’t change up the lines.

Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve viewed Stephens as being an eventual replacement for Cedric Paquette on the fourth line. He has the kind of defensive game to be a sound fourth line center that wins faceoffs and kills penalties. He hasn’t gotten a chance to kill penalties yet, other than one shift where he won the faceoff, but his faceoff skills have been on display so far. If he can keep that up and earn the confidence of the coaches, we could certainly see Stephens stepping in more on the penalty kill.

Stephens has also never put up eye popping offensive numbers whether in juniors in the OHL or professionally the AHL. He’s not going to wow you with his hands or his creativity. What he will give you is sound, responsible play on the ice. He’s a hard worker with a great motor. Some of the kinds of things we were saying about Joseph when he came in to the league last year.

For Joseph, hopefully he can rediscover his game and get back to being an aggressive forechecker with his speed that made him effective as a rookie. Because of the timing of this move, Joseph be with the Crunch until after the holiday freeze. Teams are unable to make moves between tonight at 11:59 PM and Saturday, December 28th. How soon he returns to Tampa after that will depend on how he plays in Syracuse and if he can show he’s got his swagger back.