ESTERO — The Lightning insists it doesn't want to rush prospect Brayden Point.
Associate coach Rick Bowness believes Point is an NHL player.
The "when" is to be determined.
How about now?
Point, 20, survived the Lightning's major cut down Sunday, and is one of the final 27 players in training camp. While it still appears likely Point, a 2014 third-round pick heading into his first full pro season, would start in AHL Syracuse, he has been very impressive in the preseason. He has two goals in three games, earning a spot on a line with Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn heading into Thursday's exhibition in Sunrise, one of two final showcases.
Can Point make the opening night roster?
"The mere fact he's here gives him that chance," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's performed extremely well in all the exhibition games he's played. … This will be a really good evaluation time for him and us and we'll see how he handles it."
The Lightning has an open forward spot to start the season, with wing Ryan Callahan expected to be out until mid November after hip surgery. But Cory Conacher, signed to a one-way deal in July, was thought to have an inside track. There's wing Joel Vermin, who impressed in a six-game callup last season and has also been strong this preseason. Vermin might be better suited for a bottom-six role right now. But the Lightning is also missing wing Nikita Kucherov, a restricted free agent who is holding out until he has a contract. Point could be insurance in case Kucherov isn't signed by opening night Oct. 13 against the Red Wings.
But Point, a 5-foot-11 wing, has shown he can hang. Johnson said what impresses him the most about Point is his maturity, both in personality and on-ice knowledge. Cooper said Point's hockey sense is "off the charts."
"He's going to have a heck of a future," Johnson said. "He's got everything."
Tim Hunter thinks so, too. Hunter, who played in 815 NHL games and served 14 years as an assistant coach, coached Point the last two years in juniors with Moose Jaw (Western Hockey League).
"I've seen enough in my 35 years in the NHL coaching and playing that Brayden Point is above average in a lot of those categories," Hunter said.
Point's best asset is his speed, which he improved this past year working with Lightning skating coach Barb Underhill.
"I've never seen a guy who can go into a corner full speed, spin and come out full speed with the puck," Hunter said.
Hunter thinks this is the perfect era, and team, for Point to play with, in a league and Lightning team that is built on speed. And size doesn't matter to Tampa Bay, where the undrafted and undersized (5 feet 9) Johnson became an All-Star.
"That's the way Point has got to play, a lot like him," Hunter said.
Hunter said Point was the best player in the WHL last season, racking up 35 goals (53 assists) in 48 games. "He's better than Mitch Marner," Hunter said of Toronto's No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 June draft.
Point, who played his first nine pro games for Syracuse late last season, could benefit from some more seasoning, but feels closer to believing he belongs in the NHL.
"You always want to think you're ready," Point said. "It's a lot to prove, and it takes a lot to get to where these guys are."
Point is there, at least, for now.
"It's just a matter of time," Hunter said. "It might be sooner than later. But Brayden Point is a guy that doesn't take no for an answer. He'll find a way."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.