Wings notebook: Mitchell Stephens eager to rejoin, contribute in final weeks

Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings are welcoming back a familiar face Saturday against Columbus.

Forward Mitchell Stephens, who suffered a lower-body injury Nov. 13 against Montreal and missed the next 55 games, has been cleared to return to the lineup.

Stephens will play Saturday against the Blue Jackets.

“It’s exciting to get back skating with the guys,” Stephens said. “It’s been a long road of recovery and rehab. I’m excited to join the guys and get out there.”

Stephens won a job centering the fourth line out of training camp, and had four assists in 16 games, while providing effective checking.

This will be an important end to the season for Stephens, 25, who is a restricted free agent this summer. With general manager Steve Yzerman likely to change a few faces among the forwards, it’s up to a player like Stephens to show he belongs to be part of the Wings’ future.

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“I want to bring energy every shift that I can, up and down the ice, forechecking, making it hard to play against,” Stephens said. “These last 11 games you want to prove yourself to the guys in the room. I want to be a part of this team going forward.

“For me, being out so long, I want to come in and give that little extra spark for the last 11 games of the season. I’ve watched for a long time, and I’m just excited to get back out there.

Coach Jeff Blashill is confident Stephens can help the lineup despite missing so much of the season.

“He’s an energy-type player, so he can provide energy regardless of the amount of time he missed,” Blashill said. “He’s a natural center and we’re going to play him at center. We just have to let him work his way into games and see if he can use these 11 games to kind of get himself a boost for next season.”

Stephens has been active in practice, skating and doing a variety of drills, over the last six weeks. Since being injured, Stephens has been around the locker room and stayed close to his teammates.

“The first couple of months in rehab I was here, doing rehab and hanging with the guys and saying in the day to day,” Stephens said. “All the guys have been really great about staying in the loop.

“That’s something we worked on from the very beginning of the injury, keeping my cardio up, my muscles, staying active as much as I can. I’d say the last month to two months it’s definitely ramped up with practices, skating on my own when the guys were on the road.”

Getting his timing back, said Stephens, will be crucial “and getting back to the speed of the game. It’s been good to get into the practices and get that tempo and timing back. It’s gone well.”

Stephens was able to rehab with Jakub Vrana and Troy Stecher (before Stecher was traded to Los Angeles), which helped the process.

“The three of us, we’d be in here doing our rehab and talking and they were able to skate earlier than I was, it’s good to go through it with someone else,” he said. “Everyone wants to play, but it helped having guys to rehab along side with.”

Denver connection

Red Wings fans might be disappointed with Michigan being eliminated in the Frozen Four. But the team that eliminated the Wolverines, the University of Denver, has a definite Wings’ flavor to it.

Denver defeated the Wolverines Thursday 3-2 in overtime.

Denver forward Carter Mazur (Jackson), and defensemen Antti Tuomisto and Shai Buium, are all recent Wings’ draft picks.

Denver plays Minnesota State for the championship Saturday in Boston (8 p.m./ESPN2).

Mazur, a 2021 third-round pick, had an outstanding freshman season at Denver with 14 goals and 22 assists (36 points) in 40 games). Mazur also had a good game against U-M.

“I’ve heard from our management group that he’s (Mazur) had a real big year,” Blashill said. “I’ve been able to see him a little bit. I saw him last summer at the world juniors, then watched him (against U-M). He was certainly one guy that was noticeable out there by how hard he plays, and it seems like he has a good skill-set.

“In due time all these guys will have the opportunity to show what they are once they decide it’s the right time for them to turn pro. In the meantime, Mazur definitely had an impact on the game.”

Ice chips

With Stephens cleared to play, the Wings sent forward Taro Hirose back to minor league affiliate Grand Rapids.

Hirose, 25, has a goal and three assists, for four points, in 12 games with the Wings. With the Griffins, Hirose has 14 goals and 31 assists for 45 points in 52 games.

Dylan Larkin and Filip Hronek didn’t practice Friday, which has been a trend recently, as both are playing through injuries. Blashill anticipates both to play Saturday against Columbus.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

Blue Jackets at Red Wings 

► Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Little Caesars Arena.

► TV/radio: BSD/97.1

► Outlook: The Blue Jackets (33-33-6) have only won twice in their last 10 games (2-5-3)….The teams have split two games this season, each winning on home ice…LW Patrik Laine (22 goals) and RW Jakub Voracek (46 assists) lead offensively.

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