The Tampa Bay Lightning have completed some offseason business ahead of the second round, signing Mitchell Stephens to a two-year, one-way contract. The deal will carry an average annual value of $737,500, and keeps Stephens from becoming a restricted free agent. The team has also inked Gemel Smith to a one-year, two-way contract.
Stephens, 23, is another example of the Tampa Bay “who needs first-round picks anyway?” approach that has worked so well for them in recent years. A second-round selection in 2015, the Lightning development team went to work on Stephens right away. In junior he was never an offensive star, but the 6’0″ center still found his way onto Team Canada at the World Juniors on multiple occasions because of his defense, polish and incredible work ethic.
By the time he came to the minor leagues, he was improved in all areas and ended up scoring 19 goals and 41 points in his first season with the Syracuse Crunch. Though he would have to deal with some injury problems afterward, Stephens was back succeeding this season and ended up playing 38 games for the Lightning.
It’s unlikely that Stephens will find his way into the Tampa top-six, but the team continues to churn out role players that can lengthen out their lineup with strong play for bargain-basement prices. With the team looking at trading core members like Tyler Johnson, it will be players like Stephens that allow them to stay competitive while they navigate the flat cap.
Smith meanwhile is already 26 but just had the best offensive season of his career with the Syracuse Crunch, potting 22 goals in 50 games. Originally a draft pick of the Dallas Stars, Smith has played in 83 NHL games in his career and will be strong depth in case of injuries next season.