Brayden Point earned a place on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 23-man roster out of training camp and just 12 games into the 2016-17 season, he’s showing the league how he did it.
The 20-year-old rookie put together one of the best performances of his short career, scoring his first NHL goal during the Lightning’s 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Point’s goal came at the 5:01 mark of the third period and gave the Lightning a two-goal cushion — a big goal at an important point in the game, and a lead the team would not relinquish.
Point’s first career goal came 12 games into his career, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort and impressive play at the NHL level leading up to it. First goal aside, Point played a complete game against the Devils and was one of the team’s most noticeable forwards, putting together two other good offensive opportunities by using his speed and creativity to generate quality shots on Devils goaltender Cory Schneider. It’s the sorts of things he did during the first 11 games of the season, but has not always resulted in being on the score sheet.
He has now registered a goal and four assists this season and is averaging just over 16 minutes of playing time per game. His fast-paced style has been one of the more impressive aspects of his game and part of what made him a surprise addition to the roster to start the season. His NHL career is just 12 games old, but he is showing the sort of signs that will make him an important part of the team’s future.
Earning Cooper’s Trust
Point’s play and composure at a young age has also earned the trust of head coach Jon Cooper, as he’s been called upon by Cooper in important situations this season — most notably during the sixth round of a shootout against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 18.
After Steven Stamkos tied the game at three goals apiece with just six seconds left in regulation, the Atlantic Division rivals were unable to score in overtime and advanced to a shootout. Cooper had no shortage of options on the Lightning bench, but looked to Point at a crucial point in the contest.
Cooper’s decision becomes all the more meaningful when you learn it was Point’s first shootout attempt as a professional hockey player. It speaks volumes about what Cooper and the Lightning see in the player they drafted 79th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Fitting into the Future
Point has quickly risen to the top of the team’s stable of prospects and will be an important part of the Lightning now and into the future.
General manager Steve Yzerman was able to keep the roster intact to start the 2016-17 season, but the reality is that it will be a little different looking in 2017-18 — largely because of the NHL Expansion Draft next offseason and the economics of the game making it an increasingly harder chess match for NHL GMs.
The contracts of forwards Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat each expire after the 2016-17 season and they will become restricted free agents on July 1 if not re-signed before then. In addition, Brian Boyle and Ben Bishop will each reach unrestricted free agency on the same day. At least one of those players will likely not be back with the Lightning in 2017-18, meaning Point, who was a surprise addition to this year’s roster, will take on a bigger role with the club in the future.
Point has been playing on the wing to start his NHL career because it’s where he fits within the makeup of the team’s roster, but he also has significant experience as a center before arriving in Tampa Bay. At 5’10”, 160-pounds and with good speed, Point is a natural fit in the Lightning’s system at any forward position. Point’s play, along with his flexibility on offense and his bargain price — he’s currently on an entry-level contract — make him the sort of player that becomes all the more valuable given the team’s salary cap situation.
There is no way to predict what will happen with the Lightning’s roster after this season and the focus should be on what is happening now with the club and at Point’s development as an NHL player. However, if you are looking ahead to where Point fits into the bigger picture, expect him to take an increasingly bigger role on the team now and into the future.