Top 25 Under 25: #11 Mitchell Stephens is a player that Lightning fans are going to love cheering for
With a heart-on-your-sleeve mentality, Stephens will become a fan favorite in no time—literally—as he has a fighting chance to crack the Opening Night Lineup in a few months.
The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the RawCharge writing staff. Four writers, plus a special guest, ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2017 in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked, plus Honorable Mentions.
Want to weigh in? Post your own fan ranking here!
After Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were drafted, the Lightning were slated to pick 28th overall in Round 1 of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. As the rumor goes, once the Canadiens took right-handed defenseman Noah Juulsen 26th overall, Yzerman decided to trade out of Round 1, and in doing so, he acquired the 33rd and 72nd overall picks that same year. The 72nd overall pick was used to select center Anthony Cirelli, and the 33rd overall pick was used to draft Mitchell Stephens.
Although he only put up 22 goals and 26 assists in 62 games in his draft year, Stephens’ value is found primarily off the scoresheet. His tenacity on the forecheck and attack is relentless, compounded with his leadership and work ethic—two intangibles that the scouting staff really set their sights on. As the staff over at BoltProspects.com loves to say, he compares favorably to a young Ryan Callahan with better hands.
Stephens has represented Team Canada on three separate occasions—at the U-18 World Juniors in 2014-15 and the U-20 World Juniors the past two years. Across the three tournaments, he has posted 8 goals to go along with 9 assists in 17 games. He earned the trust of the Syracuse coaching staff this past playoff season, dressing for 3 Calder Cup playoff matches. Although he was held off the scoresheet during the Calder Cup playoffs, he was not out of place by any means.
In his final year of juniors at the age of 19, Stephens was finally able to crack the point-per-game tick. He also put up 7 goals and 3 assists in 14 playoff games before his Knights were eventually ousted at the hands of the eventual OHL Champion and Memorial Cup runners-up the Erie Otters.
Stephens is one of the more versatile prospects in the Lightning organization, as he can play both center and left wing. He is projected to be a sure-fire third liner who can chip in offensively at times by spotting on a second scoring line.
He may push for a roster spot out of training camp this September but will likely fall just short. If he starts the year in Syracuse, he may very well find a full-time position on the Lightning roster come January or February, as he will likely be one of the first players to be recalled.
His first cousin, Owen Tippett, was selected 10th overall last month by the Florida Panthers. There will almost assuredly be a stronger rivalry between the two prospects in the coming years than there currently is between the two clubs—the reason being that the Lightning usually have their way with the Stinkin’ Panthers.