Bolt Prospect of the Week

We continue our Bolt Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for his recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Bolt Prospect of the Week for the week ending October 6 is … Mitchell Stephens, W, Saginaw Spirit, OHL.

When Mitchell Stephens was drafted with the Lightning’s top pick this summer, fans looked at his numbers and shrugged. That’s it?

Stephens posted 22 goals and 48 points in 62 games for the Spirit, with a minus-17 rating.

Perspective, people.

The Spirit barely made the playoffs last year before being swept easily by Anthony DeAngelo’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Like Brayden Point’s Moose Jaw Warriors, the Spirit were a shallow team devoid of high-end skill from more than a couple players. Lightning head scout Al Murray, who’s paid to look far beyond stats, cautioned to not read too much into the numbers. Saginaw struggled and Stephens had much more to give.

The second rounder showed that this week when he notched his first hat trick since December last season in an 8-3 home win over Guelph. Stephens was a pre-season breakout player pick by the OHL media and he has four goals in three games. He was first star for his 3-goal, 7-shot effort against the Storm on Saturday, and for that he’s our Bolt Prospect of the Week.

Stephens can play anywhere in a lineup and has drawn comparisons to the Lightning’s Ryan Callahan in terms of resiliency and character. He stood out at the Lightning’s prospect tournament as someone who could score and do all the little things that make coaches put players out in all game situations.

His coach in the prospects tournament, AHL Syracuse’s Rob Zettler, won’t put the Callahan clone label on him just yet.

“I don't want to put those expectations on the kid right now,” he told reporters in Estero, Florida. “He's fresh out of junior, he just got drafted and he's kind of feeling his way and trying to figure out what it takes to play at this level. We can answer the question 3-4 years down the line when he turns pro, but right now he's starting to learn the game. He's a good kid, he's a good player; he's just got some more growing to do.”

The 5-11, 188-pound forward from Peterborough, Ontario, played for Team Canada last season in both the Ivan Hlinka tournament as a fourth liner, and for the U-18 squad as a scoring liner. He offers his teams a variety of options.

“For me, I’m a versatile player,” Stephens said when asked to describe his style. “I have the ability to play on all four lines and in all four roles. With that versatility, it’s easy for me to go from first to fourth. My job is to compete, whether I’m on the first or the fourth lines.”

Sounds like Callahan, but don’t tell Zettler that.

Stephens projects as a top-9 NHL winger capable of playing a variety of roles. He’ll continue to develop his offensive side this season in Saginaw before returning to Lightning camp next year. He’ll likely return to the OHL next season as well as he won’t be old enough for NHL play and the Lightning project to be deep at forward once again.

By the time Stephens turns pro, his 22-26-48 stat line from his draft year will be a distant memory. He’s a sure-fire NHLer, regardless of what the numbers say.

BP Rank: 6

(MLive photo)

Honorable Mention: Dennis Yan, W, Shawinigan QMJHL; Kris Oldham, G, Omaha USHL

Previous 2015-2016 Prospect of the Week winners:

September 29: Matt Peca, C, (Tampa Bay, NHL, USA)