The Tampa Bay Lightning have traded center Mitchell Stephens to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a 2022 sixth round pick. Stephens was originally drafted 33rd overall in the 2nd round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. His pick was acquired when the Lightning traded down from the 28th overall pick in the 1st round with the New York Islanders. The Lightning also acquired a third round pick which they used to select Anthony Cirelli.
Stephens made his professional debut in 2015-16, playing five games with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL after his OHL team, the Saginaw Spirit, were eliminated from the playoffs. He once again joined the Crunch at the end of the 2016-17 season and played in three playoff games. Stephens made his NHL debut during the 2019-20 season with the Lightning playing in 38 games with three goals and six points. He appeared in another seven playoff games with one goal during the 2020 NHL Playoffs Bubble.
Stephens entered the 2020-21 season as the 4th line center for the Lightning. Unfortunately, he was injured early in the season when he was pulled down from behind (by future fellow Cup winner David Savard). That injury required knee surgery and forced him to miss most of the rest of the season. He went to the AHL to play four games on a conditioning stint with the Crunch and scored a goal and eight points. He returned to the Lightning appearing in three games late in the season. He did not appear for a playoff game.
When he was drafted, he was billed as a Ryan Callahan, middle six type winger that could bring some jam, some defensive reliability, and just enough offense to stick in the middle six. At the time, it was not thought that he would be able to stick as a center in the professional ranks. Turned out, he was able to stay at center and became a very good faceoff man that was defensively responsible. Unfortunately, the offense never came along for him to be anything more than a fourth line center.
When the Lightning signed Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in free agency, it felt like the writing might be on the wall for Stephens. If he was to stay in the line-up, he’d have to be shifted over to the right wing on the fourth line. That’s a spot that now may be going to Corey Perry after his signing. Moving Stephens to Detroit also makes sure that Alex Barre-Boulet, who just signed a three-year contract, will most likely have a spot on the roster and in the line-up, as long as he earns it in training camp. It also leaves one more spot open for a player like Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, Simon Ryfors, Gemel Smith, Charles Hudon, or Gabriel Dumont to be the 13th forward on the NHL squad.
A sixth round pick isn’t bad value for Stephens. Fourth liners are available all over the league, and many times in the AHL too. They generally do not have much trade value, especially in the case of a player like Stephens where he is still fairly young, but has limited NHL experience.
One good thing for Stephens though... he leaves the Lightning as a two-time Stanley Cup Champion.