Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning right to break with recent history to keep Point

TAMPA — Grant Point went online and bought tickets for Thursday's Lightning opener in advance.

Then he crossed his fingers.

Point's son Brayden, 20, a talented forward prospect, had an impressive training camp with Tampa Bay. But history wasn't on his side. Since Steve Yzerman took over as general manager in 2010, no first-year pro with AHL eligibility had made the team out of camp. That includes Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn, each of whom first cut his teeth in the minors. "Really, that helped them develop," coach Jon Cooper said.

But not only did Point make the team, he played 16 minutes in his NHL debut Thursday against Detroit (with his parents and younger brother in attendance). And he didn't look out of place. And in Saturday's 3-2 win over the Devils, he got his first NHL point, an assist on the winning goal.

The Lightning made the right call in keeping Point, no matter for how long his time with it lasts. He saw a door open with two vacant spots in camp, Ryan Callahan recovering from June hip surgery and Kucherov's contract holdout. Given a showcase, Point delivered, garnering the trust of the coaching staff and teammates.

"He earned it," Johnson said. "He's a guy that really made our team better throughout camp. As an organization, if you have a choice, or if you're on the bubble, maybe they'll send you down. He's a guy that deserves to be here." Said Kucherov: "If he keeps doing what he's doing right now, he's going to be a great player in this league."

It would have been easy for the Lightning to instead keep Cory Conacher, a former Tampa Bay forward who was signed a one-way deal in the offseason. Or it could have used wing Joel Vermin, who played six games for the Lightning last season and had an "outstanding camp," Yzerman said. But Conacher and Vermin were put on waivers and sent to Syracuse. So was veteran forward Erik Condra, though that move was more salary cap driven. But Conacher's salary ($575,000) is less than Point's ($686,667).

It sends the right message to the dressing room that spots are based on performance, not contracts. As Cooper joked, with Halloween coming up, "We don't hand roster spots out like candy."

Cooper said that as the league gets faster every year, teams have to keep up, and Point, 5 feet 11, skates like the wind. He has skill and the hockey smarts. Cooper feels comfortable playing Point up and down the lineup, and on the power play. Point could still get sent to Syracuse when Callahan returns, expected to be next month, or later.

"Is he 100 percent ready? I guess we'll find out in the next little while," Cooper said. "If Game 1 is any indication, he fits right in."

And that's the point.

SLAP SHOTS: Defenseman Slater Koekkoek, a healthy scratch for the first two games, will get his opportunity. … Bob McKenzie, a reporter for Canadian TV network TSN, said in his podcast last week that the Lightning was one of the teams to "kick the tires" on acquiring Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba in the summer. … Not surprised Condra handled his humbling demotion to the AHL like a pro, saying he hopes to help the young players. "It's always maybe a shot to your ego when you've played five years, six years in the NHL and then you're told that you have to go back down," Condra told the Syracuse Post-Standard.

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