The Tampa Bay Lightning have announced the recall of forwards Cory Conacher and Mitchell Stephens from the Syracuse Crunch. Cory Conacher has been up and down between the Crunch and the Lightning over the past few weeks and has appeared in three games with one assist. Conacher is a veteran player and provides a consistent game when he’s in the game as an energy, depth scorer that can play up and down the lineup where ever needed.
The more interesting recall is Mitchell Stephens. I have been high on him for a while, though the shine has started to dull a little bit as he is in his third professional season. When he was drafted, he was billed as being a similar player to Ryan Callahan. The offensive upside was probably not the same as Prime Callahan, but his work ethic and effort level were right up there.
Stephens plays a responsible two-way game and has managed to stick at center in the professional ranks when it was believed he would need to move to wing before he became a pro. Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve considered Stephens to be the most likely replacement for Cedric Paquette on the fourth line when the team decides to move on from him.
In 131 career AHL games, Stephens has scored 36 goals and 76 points. He’s also only accumulated 45 PIMs as he does not take very many penalties. He’s had a bit of a down season offensively this year though with just five goals and 10 points in 24 games. He also missed half of last season with injury. As a professional rookie, he put up 19 goals and 41 points in 70 games and was a All-Star in the AHL. This is Stephens’ first recall to the Lightning other than serving as a Black Ace during the 2017-18 NHL playoffs.
There was no indications of any new injuries from Jon Cooper after Saturday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks so who they might be replacing is in question. Looking at the time on ice report for Saturday’s game though does give us one possibility.
Tyler Johnson only played three shifts in the third period. He only took one shift after scoring his second goal of the night early in the period. His last shift ended with 12:33 left in the third period. Johnson was playing on a line with Steven Stamkos and Carter Verhaeghe. Stephens could step in with that line, but I think it would make more sense for Anthony Cirelli to step up to the second line and allow Stephens to play on the third line next to Alex Killorn and Mathieu Joseph.
[Ed. note - a tweet from Bryan Burns confirms that Tyler Johnson will be out for the “next couple of games]
Beyond Johnson, the only players to end the game “early” were the Lightning’s top offensive players in Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov. They didn’t play in the last four plus minutes of the game, but that doesn’t mean anything since the Lightning were up 6-0 or 6-1 when they took their last shifts of the game.
The other possibility of course is that someone is dinged up, but was able to finish the game. The reality of hockey is that almost everyone is dinged up in some way. It’s hard to not be with such a physical sport, but we don’t hear about 98% of these injuries because players are able to play through it. The Lightning are also on a back-to-back with the New York Islanders at home tonight and down in Sunrise tomorrow night to take on the Florida Panthers.
My guess is that Johnson may not be ready to go which necessitated bringing up a center in Stephens. Conacher could also get the nod since Stamkos can move back to center on the second line as well. The coaches will be able to make that decision of who they feel more comfortable playing. They’ll also have some insurance during this back-to-back instead of scrambling to try and get a player down from Syracuse to Sunrise before the game tomorrow if needed.