TAMPA – When he was just a kid in Calgary, Brayden Point would watch the NHL All-Star Weekend on television. He liked watching the game. He loved watching the skills competition. The best part was seeing the superstars of the game. Guys like Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
Hey, maybe one day he could play in that game. Wouldn't that be cool? A dream come true? Point must have thought about it all the time.
"I don't know about that,'' Point said.
"Just making the NHL was my dream,'' he said.
So when Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman told Point last week that he was selected to replace injured Lightning teammate Victor Hedman in the All-Star Game, Point didn't quite believe it.
"Really?'' Point said to Yzerman. "They want me? … To play?''
Even three months ago, no one thought Point would be in this game. Not even Point. In fact, now that he is here, he still doesn't quite believe it.
"I just don't think of myself as an all-star,'' Point said.
Not because he isn't good enough because he clearly is. And not because he doesn't deserve to be because he clearly does. And it's not that he lacks confidence because he clearly doesn't.
So what is it?
Point smiles. Then shrugs.
It’s not exactly Jack Sparrow but #TBLightning #NHL All-Star Brayden Point gives his best #Gasparilla2018 pirate impersonation from the podium on media day in Tampa. @TBLightning pic.twitter.com/COv4j4Jx0t— Dirk Shadd (@DirkShadd) January 27, 2018
What makes it hard for him to believe he's an all-star is exactly what makes him an all-star. He takes nothing for granted. He's out to prove himself, shift-by shift. Maybe that goes back to 2015-16 when the Lightning sent him back to juniors. Before training camp even started that season, the Lightning had pretty much decided to send Point back for more seasoning.
"But he shows up and there was this feeling that, 'Whoa, this kid might make the team,''' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It was tough not to keep him.''
So that drove Point to succeed, right?
"Maybe,'' Point said, as you would expect. "I don't know that I thought I could have made the club. When I went to that camp, I was just hoping to make a good impression.''
He made such an impression that the Lightning didn't hesitate calling him up last season when several players went down with injuries.
"That was a smooth transition,'' Cooper said.
He fit right in. Then he took his game to another level in last summer's World Championships, playing on Team Canada for Cooper.
"That helped my confidence just being around other players,'' Point said, "seeing how they play, how they prepare.''
Did anyone see what was coming next? Point has 20 goals and 24 assists and is a plus-20 in 49 games this season. He's a star. An all-star.
As much as we can talk about Lightning superstars Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, Point's name belongs right here, too. Maybe he's a reluctant all-star and a surprising all-star. But he's also a deserving all-star.
"It's one thing to be really, really happy for a player, but he has earned it and that's what makes it something special for him,'' Cooper said. "We know how important he is to our team, but other teams are finding that out as well."
Point turns 22 in March. He's got enough kid left in him that he couldn't wait until morning to tell his parents he made the all-star team. He woke them up to tell them the news.
He admits to be nervous about Sunday's game. But there he will be, in the same All-Star Game with the Ovechkin and Crosby and the stars he watched on TV as a kid.
"No, no, I didn't think it would ever happen,'' Point said.
It has. And now he can call himself an all-star.
"I don't believe that,'' Point said. "That's just crazy to me.''
Crazy to him. Not to anyone else. Not anymore.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected]om. Follow @tomwjones