Mark Stone is congratulated by Team Canada after he tells them he "has a good feeling" that he'll be playing in the NHL playoffs in a few months.
Bruce Garrioch and Ian Mendes reported earlier this morning that there's a good chance that Mark Stone makes his NHL debut tonight, and it's since been confirmed by Darren Dreger. That the 19 year-old Stone will step into the lineup tonight is pretty remarkable for a kid who was drafted in the 6th round two years ago. After all, there were only 32 kids picked later than Stone in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and none of them have seen any NHL playing time. In fact, only a single player (Dalton Prout) drafted after the 2nd round in the 2010 Draft have seen NHL action, and he only saw 5 games. Stone, meanwhile, will see his first slice of NHL action in Game 5 of a tied first-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. No pressure, kid.
Stone's spot on the team opened up due to the injuries to Daniel Alfredsson and Jesse Winchester, which has resulted in some significant line shuffling. Stone practiced yesterday on the second line, but today saw himself on the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Jim O'Brien, and his 6'3", 196lb frame should provide more than enough size to be an effective checking line player. Additionally, Ian Mendes reports that MacLean is hinting that Stone can expect powerplay time as well, which is no surprise given the Senators' struggles in that department and given his undeniable scoring touch -- in the 2010/11 season, Stone was third in the WHL with 106 points (37G, 69A), while this season he finished second with a staggering 123 points (41 G, 82A) in just 66 games.
If Stone draws into the line-up tonight, he'll become just the fifth teenager in Ottawa Senators history to play in an NHL playoff game. Of course, he's no stranger to big games, having posted a team-leading 7 goals and 10 points in the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships for Team Canada. I was in Calgary to watch a couple of Stone's games at the WJHC, and came away very impressed with his play. Stone is great positionally, particularly good at sneaking behind players and firing a quick shot in the slot. His shot is hard and very accurate. He has good patience with the puck, and has underrated vision and passing. He uses his big body to his advantage and is hard to move in front of the net (where he often is), and protects puck along the boards well. Although much was made about his subpar skating when he was drafted, he's improved it significantly.
For those who haven't had a chance to see Stone play, here's a pretty nifty highlight video from his 2010-2011 season showing his great shot and playmaking abilities (and remember, he's improved greatly since then):
Stone's going to have a huge learning curve to adjust to his first NHL game, but he's got the size, skill, and hockey IQ to help with the transition. Two years ago, if you suggested that Ottawa's 6th round pick would be inserted into a playoff game within the next two years, people wouldn't have believed it. I suppose it's fitting, then, that he joins the team that nobody would have believed could make the playoffs, let alone be tied 2-2 in a series with the top seed in the Conference.