The Tampa Bay Lightning relayed some disappointing news today, announcing that Mitchell Stephens will be out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Stephens got tangled up with Columbus Blue Jackets defender David Savard on Saturday, appearing to have his ankle trapped underneath both their falling bodies. The team also announced that Erik Cernak, who fell awkwardly in the same game, is considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Stephens, 23, became a semi-regular for the Lightning last season, playing in 38 games and recording six points. He had embraced his fourth-line center role, winning a huge portion of his faceoffs and generally limiting the damage against, even if he wasn’t producing much himself. With his absence, the team will have to figure out another option for that role, one that doesn’t really stand out among the team’s extra forwards. Perhaps Gemel Smith will get a chance to center that fourth unit, or the team could move someone off the wing and into the middle.
A team like the Lightning can certainly get by without Stephens, but these injuries to depth players can come back in a big way should one of the team’s more prominent players go down. Without a clear timeline, the Lightning will just have to hope for the best in Stephens’ case.