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2020 Raw Charge Top 25 Under 25: #6 Mitchell Stephens

Will it be a full season in the NHL for Mitchell Stephens?

Scott Thomas Photography

Thanks to some injuries last season, Mitchell Stephens was given a chance at the NHL level. His play didn’t give the Tampa Bay Lightning a reason to send him back down to Syracuse (well, except for some paper transactions). In the upcoming 2021 season, he has an excellent chance to stick with the Lightning full time.

Stephens started the 2019-20 season in Syracuse as their number two center behind free agent pick up Chris Mueller. Injuries had plagued him in the previous season and the number one goal for him last season was to stay healthy and make up for lost time. He probably never imagined he’d be lifting the Stanley Cup at the end of the season.

Lightning fans got a bit of a taste as to the type of player Stephens is during his half-season with Tampa Bay. He’s never going to be a prolific scorer, even in junior hockey he topped out at 48 points (22 goals, 26 assists) for the Saginaw Spirit, but he does bring a certain set of skills to the ice that should bode well for his success in the NHL.

He is fast, probably one of the faster skaters in the organization and he has a smooth stride that catches opponents off-guard from time to time. Stephens will use that speed and his size (6’0, 194 lbs.) to effectively forecheck and disrupt the opposition in their own zone. He’ll also post up in front of the net on the power play and use his body to shield the goaltender.

Like a lot of the forwards on this list, his ability to play the entire length of the ice is one of his strengths. In the defensive zone he is excellent at maintaining his position and reading how a play develops. On the penalty kill, he has a keen understanding of where the puck is going and is able to interrupt the opponent’s play. If he sees a chance, he will pressure the puck and look for a breakaway. During his time in Syracuse he did have three short-handed goals.

One of his more important skills is his ability to win face-offs. With Syracuse he won 60% of his draws overall and an even more impressive 62% in the offensive zone. Even in the NHL he held his own, winning 52% of the face-offs he had during the regular season. If he keeps that up, Coach Cooper will be more than happy to keep running him out onto the ice for important draws.

The fourth-year pro is going to be in the running for a spot on the roster this season, and may benefit greatly if the NHL expands their rosters due to the unique season they’re going to play. Even if the number of spots stays the same, he should have a better than average shot of making the team out of training camp and sticking with the Bolts all year long.

In all likelihood he’ll battle Cedric Paquette for the fourth line center spot, but if he plays to his ability he could push Paquette to the wing or the press box. He has more speed than the veteran, is better at face-offs, and is just as responsible, if not more so, defensively. He is also younger and cheaper, factors that will be pretty important to the Lightning this season.

There isn’t anything special about his shot. He does have a quick release and gets the puck on target, but it isn’t particularly heavy or troublesome for goaltenders. He will get his share of goals simply from his willingness to get in front of the net. Case in point - his first career NHL “playoff” goal:

That’s the type of play fans can expect to see from him. It started with a strong forecheck that caused a turnover and then he drifted in front of the net and maintained his position long enough to whack home the rebound. He is fast enough, and alert enough on defense that he may score a few breakaway or two-on-one goals, but a lot of his tallies are going to come from the dirty area right in front of the crease.

The promotion to the NHL and playing time in the playoffs skyrocketed his rankings this year. Last season he was ranked 14th, and the 9 spots that he moved up was the second most in this year’s rankings. Sixth is a pretty solid ranking for him. While he should have a long NHL career in front of him, it’s most likely to be in the middle six.

The Writers were pretty united in their ranking of Stephens this year as he was ranked between fifth and eighth by everyone. The Readers had a bit of a bigger spread, but still ended up in sixth spot when they were all averaged together.