Lightning’s Brayden Point Off to Strong Start

Brayden Point set up the Tampa Bay Lightning’s game-winning goal on Saturday to give the team a 3-2 lead over the New Jersey Devils. It was his first NHL point and would give the Lightning its second come from behind win in as many games to start the season.

It was also the sort of play that demonstrated why he was a part of the team’s 23-man roster heading into 2016-17 and why he could stay there.

On a faceoff in the Devils’ defensive zone during the third period, the puck was pushed to the left of Devils center Travis Zajac. Point burst towards the puck and tapped it into the corner, beating two Devils players to the boards and emerging with the puck on his stick as he rounded behind the Devils’ net and made a pass to Jason Garrison at the point. Garrison took a hard slap shot that was redirected out of mid-air on a tip-in by Valtteri Filppula to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead — its first of the game and one they held onto for the remaining 14:17 left in regulation.

The 20-year-old forward entered training camp as a talented player expected to be a part of the NHL club at some point in the future, but emerged as one of the team’s best players in camp and earned his way onto the roster to start the 2016-17 season.

How He Got to Tampa Bay

After being selected by the Lightning 79th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Manitoba native began his third full season with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the Western Hockey League. He was named to Team Canada’s roster for the  2015 World Junior Championships — a team that included the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid and the Arizona Coyotes’ Max Domi. Point tallied two goals and two assists in seven games and helped Canada to the gold medal.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was also impressed by Point at training camp. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was also impressed by Point at training camp. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

In 2014-15 with the Warriors, he set career highs in goals (38) and finished with 87 points in 60 games. His play earned him his first pro contract on April 1, 2015, and a tryout with the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch. He skated in nine regular-season games with the Crunch and had four points before going scoreless in two playoff contests.

Despite his success in junior hockey, Point was unable to crack a deep Lightning roster at training camp and returned to the Warriors for the 2015-16 season. The 5’11”, 165-pound forward tallied more than 1.8 points per game over 48 games and registered 16 points in 10 playoff contests.

Point also gained valuable experience as captain of Team Canada at the 2016 World Junior Championships where he tallied five points in five games.

Earning a Spot on the Lightning Roster

The Lightning opened training camp in September without 12 players who were participating at the World Cup of Hockey tournament and an injured Ryan Callahan.

Jon Cooper
Cooper usually brings players up through the AHL before joining the Lightning, but it has been different for Point to start 2016-17. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The absence of some of the team’s biggest stars helped give younger players like Point the opportunity to be front and center at training camp and play more minutes in preseason games. He took advantage of the situation, leading the Lightning with four points in four preseason games and being a surprise addition to the roster to open the season.

After playing more than 16 minutes in his NHL debut against the Detroit Red Wings, Point was a plus-one and had an assist on Saturday. After the game, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper spoke about how Point got there.

“He’s on this team for a reason,” Cooper said, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith.

If Point’s first two NHL games are any indication, it’s somewhere he will stay.