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Lightning Round: Who’s a better fit for a fourth-line center?

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Syracuse Crunch and Orlando Solar Bears won their games on Friday night.

Chicago Blackhawks v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images

As the Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper mentioned earlier this week, Mitchell Stephens is close to his return and will be in the day-to-day category starting next week. The 24-year old forward hasn’t played since sustaining a knee injury in the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in January. However his roster spot doesn’t look as vacant as it seemed to be back in January as Ross Colton has really proven himself as a solid fourth line center recently.

Colton impressed many of the Lightning fans and experts with his quick start. He scored a goal in his debut and recorded four points in seven games so far. He fitted very well on the fourth line alongside Pat Maroon and Mathieu Joseph, receiving compliments from his linemates. Due to a small sample size it’s still very difficult to evaluate objectively his performance in the NHL, however it’s enough to make some assumptions.

Both Colton and Stephens have good size and are suited perfectly for a fourth-line role. Stephens is faster and more effective at forechecking, while Colton has a little bit higher offensive upside and used to play on the power-play in the AHL. Both players are very good defensively and very strong at face-offs.

In seven starts this season Colton posted 49.5 CF% at 5v5, while having started 51.3 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. Stephens posted just 39.9 CF% in four games he played, last regular season he finished with 53.4 CF%, despite starting 56.5% of his shifts in defensive zone. Colton has proven himself good at drawing penalties; so far this season he already drew three two-minutes penalties and has taken just one.

Ross Colton is also exceeding Mitchell Stephens in expected goal share at 5v5 according to naturalstattrick.com with 56.16 xGF% at 5v5 in comparison to Stephens’ 35.98 xGF%, however as a I mentioned before, both players’ stats are very inflated due to the number of games they played.

Another interesting thing I noticed is that Ross Colton is currently the third player in the NHL in WAR/60, a statistic which measure how many “wins” players provide their team. But again this is also affected by a small sample size.

This is still very early to say who’s suited better for the fourth-line center role, however we know for sure that Colton will pose some competition to Stephens for this spot. Colton benefited due to a bigger number of offensive zone starts, however Stephens is more experienced and already appeared in seven playoffs games. With the Lightning cap space issues, both players could easily play in the NHL in the same roster.

Poll

Who would you take as a fourth-line center?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Mitchell Stephens
    (25 votes)
  • 72%
    Ross Colton
    (67 votes)
92 votes total Vote Now

Lightning Links

The Tampa Bay Lightning recalled forward Gemel Smith and Christopher Gibson from the Syracuse Crunch, Taylor Raddysh and Spencer Martin went the opposite direction.

The Syracuse Crunch defeated the Rochester Americans 4-3 in overtime on Friday night. The Florida Panthers prospect Grigiri Denisenko scored a game-winning goal. The Crunch extended their winning streak to four games.

Meanwhile tonight’s game against the Utica Comets was postponed due to the league COVID-19 protocols.

The Orlando Solar Bears completed a comeback after trailing 0-3 in the first period to the South Carolina Stingrays to earn a 6-3 victory. The Solar Bears have now won three consecutive games.

Hockey News

The Montreal Canadiens acquired forward Eric Stall from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for or 3rd and 5th round picks in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Initially the Canadiens were on the Eric Staal’s no-trade list.

Meanwhile the Sabres are already exploring opportunities to trade their other players. Taylor Hall could be also on move.

The Florida Panthers placed a former Lightning defenceman Anton Stralman on waivers.

The Michigan hockey team withdraws from the NCAA Tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test. The Minnesota Dulith will advance to the next round automatically.