Red Wings Role Call is assessing every player who held a significant place in the fortunes of the 2021-22 Detroit Red Wings season. We’ll be looking at the highs and lows they experienced during the just-completed campaign, as well as what the future holds for them in Detroit. Today, we feature forward Mitchell Stephens.
2021-22 totals (GP-G-A-P): 27-0-6-6
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent
Sending a 2022 sixth-round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning to acquire him on July 30, 2021, the Detroit Red Wings held out high hopes for what Mitchell Stephens could bring to their team’s bottom-six forwards. In small sample sizes, he was delivering on that promise.
Take a Timeout with Trev as Trevor Thompson catches up with #RedWings forward Mitchell Stephens, who just returned to the lineup after a lengthy injury absence. #LGRW@Stephens2727 | @iamtrevort pic.twitter.com/Q52bp0tLnA
— Bally Sports Detroit (@BallySportsDET) April 16, 2022
Quick on his feet and outstanding on the forecheck, Stephens was an ideal fourth-line center. He’d filled that role with Tampa Bay’s 2019-20 Stanley Cup championship club.
“He plays with a lot of speed,” Detroit teammate Sam Gagner said of Stephens. “He hunts down pucks, does a lot of little things really well. He’s just one of those guys who seems to be around the play because of his speed.”
2021-2022 Detroit Red Wings Highlights
Stephens picked up a pair of assists Oct. 24 in a 6-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. The Red Wings were 3-1-1 in games in which Stephens collected a point.
Stephens was leading the Red Wings in shorthanded ice time per game at the time of his injury.
2021-22 Red Wings Lowlights
Stephens crashed into the boards behind the Montreal Canadiens net in a Nov. 13 game. He’d miss the next 55 games, returning in time to play the final 11 games of the regular season.
— Nolan Bianchi (@nolanbianchi) November 14, 2021
In 2020-21, Stephens was also severely hampered by injury. He played just 11 games – seven for Tampa Bay and four for the Lightning’s AHL club, the Syracuse Crunch.
What Does His Detroit Future Hold?
When he did play, Stephens displayed an ability to be helpful in a role as a checker and a penalty killer.
“I liked Mitch before he got hurt,” former Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “I think we would’ve been a better team if he stayed healthy but that’s life. He’d shown flashes of being a real good depth player and a guy who can provide energy, can win faceoffs and has enough skill to make a play.”
Stephens is a restricted free agent and the fact of the matter is the club will be getting a new coach. His future with the team could very well depend upon that hire. Wings management must made a decision whether to tender Stephens a qualifying offer, or let him walk as an unrestricted free agent.
It’s also possible that after two years of serious injuries, the Wings might simply opt to move on from Stephens. After all, fourth-line centers aren’t all that difficult to find.