The weekly Prospect Spotlight feature returns for the 2016-17 season on TampaBayLightning.com. Each week, fans will be able to catch up on how their favorite prospects are performing and progressing throughout the season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the BB&T Center in Sunrise on June 26, 2015 with the 28th overall pick. Instead of selecting an eligible player, the Bolts elected to trade away their first-round pick to the New York Islanders in exchange for a second (33rd overall) and third-round pick (72nd overall).
With the 33rd overall pick, the Lightning selected center Mitchell Stephens of the Ontario Hockey League's Saginaw Spirit. Stephens boosted his draft stock heading into the 2015 draft with a strong performance at the 2015 World Under-18 Championship where he served as captain of Team Canada and finished second in team scoring with five goals and ten points in seven games.
Stephens' ability to play a very mature, 200-foot style of hockey didn't go unnoticed. According to The Hockey News, more than 20 different NHL teams conducted interviews with the Peterborough native at the draft combine as his impressive two-way play saw him move into first-round pick discussion.
"When you break down Mitchell's game, one of his best qualities is that he's not one dimensional," Saginaw head coach Spencer Carbery said. "He plays both sides of the puck. He's hard on the puck. He takes defensive draws. He's a two-way forward.
"Right when I first got here and saw Mitchell and his skill in practice and then also against competition in games, you could see his elite tools for this level. His skating is as good as I've seen thus far in major junior and the OHL."
Stephens is currently serving as captain of the Spirit while leading the team in goals with 10 and points with 25. After wearing the 'C' for Team OHL during the CIBC Canada-Russia Series, Stephens is expected to be in the running to serve as captain for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in late December.
"Mitchell leads by example. He leads by his work ethic," Carbery said. "At a young age, you need to have that extremely high determination level because there's so many kids that want the same thing that you're going after. You have to be more determined, more focused, and more driven to want it so badly that when you get out on the ice, you show that and compete like that. Mitchell does that at the highest level.
"He is ultra-competitive and driven. That's one quality you can see in Mitchell. He is really, really determined."
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound forward inked a three-year, entry-level contract with Tampa Bay on April 4, 2016. Carbery believes that Tampa Bay fans have plenty to look forward to with Stephens.
"The best thing that I love about him and I see it every day is that he's such a competitive kid," Carbery said. "He's going to be one of those guys that fans will appreciate because of how hard he plays.
"When you watch games, even if he's not lighting up the score sheet, you'll notice him because of the little things he does and how hard he works. I have no doubt that he's going to do that once he permanently gets to the pro level."