Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Brayden Point could be perfect fit alongside Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov

SUNRISE — Brayden Point ended last season as the Lightning's No. 1 center, thrust into the role as a rookie due to injuries.

And Point, 21, may also open this season on the top line, only at left wing. It's an important role, flanking the team's top two offensive stars, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

Point fit in well during Tuesday's 4-2 exhibition loss to the Panthers, the line combining for 17 of the team's 40 shots. Point had a game-high seven.

"One thing about (Point) is he's a puck hound," coach Jon Cooper said. "You've got a couple skilled scorers on that line. You need someone that can go in and get those guys pucks. So we're trying to see if that combination works.

"(Point) can erase a lot of mistakes by anyone out there, because of his quickness, his tenacity. You want to get the puck on Stamkos' stick, want the puck on Kucherov's stick. You need guys to go get it and (Point) is one of those guys."

Puck retrieval is one part, but keeping up is another. Both Kucherov and Stamkos have noted how smart of a player Point is, making for some quick chemistry.

"He's a very skilled player, very smart player," Stamkos said of Point. "For as young as he is, his ability to read the play on both ends of the ice is beyond his years. That's what makes him be so effective. He knows where to be, and he's willing to go to those areas. That helps you produce in this league, but not everybody's willing to go there."

Point said he's willing to play any position, as long as he's on the team. It was only a year ago that Point surprised many by earning a spot on the Lightning's opening-night roster. No other player in the Steve Yzerman era in Tampa Bay had made that jump from juniors in his first year pro.

Not only did Point make the team, he might have been one of the Lightning's most consistent players. He finished with 40 points (18 goals) in 68 games while playing big minutes in a top role as Stamkos and Tyler Johnson were injured.

"I got to play some awesome hockey that I wasn't expecting to play," Point said. "But I've still got a lot to prove. I only had one year. I can't bank on that."

Point benefited from missing a month in the middle of last season due to an upper-body injury. It gave him a mental and physical break. He also learned from watching from the press box. When Point returned, he scored 15 of his 18 goals.

"I was playing okay, but not putting up the numbers I would like," Point said. "I think sitting and getting to watch from a different perspective, that helped."

It also helped that Point moved back to his natural center position, having spent the start of the year on the wing. But Point said it was more about getting more comfortable and adjusting to the league.

"I started to figure out a little bit how things worked in the NHL, how you can create offense," Point said. "It's definitely different than junior or how I would play in junior. I'm just trying to get more comfortable this year."

Point gained even more confidence playing for Cooper in the summer's World Championships for Team Canada. He played on the "kid line" with the Maple Leafs' Mitch Marner for the runner-up Canadians.

"He was one of the best players on our team and that's saying a lot," said wing Alex Killorn, Point's teammate with the Lightning and Canada.

That's why Cooper isn't concerned about any "sophomore slump."

"I think Pointer took such a huge step last year, if he just continues to where he was last year, that's a plus for us," Cooper said. "He's still a young kid, eager and hungry to learn. There's a lot more that kid has to give."

GAME DETAILS: LW Alex Volkov, a plus-1, held his own while playing with Johnson and Ondrej Palat. … D Anton Stralman felt good in his exhibition debut, with four shots in a team-high 21:12. "It was a good test," he said. "And I passed." … D Mikhail Sergachev played his fourth straight game, picking up an assist in 19:50. … Stamkos said his legs felt a lot better than Friday's debut but wants to be better making plays (five giveaways). … G Andrei Vasilevskiy was sharp with 29 saves. Kucherov and Ryan Callahan scored.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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