TAMPA — C Brayden Point looks up to C Tyler Johnson, so getting a "front-row seat" to the former All-Star in Tuesday's preseason opener was special.
It was certainly a bonus Johnson set up Point's third-period goal of a 3-2 loss to Carolina with a strong forecheck and pass from behind the net.
But Johnson, playing in his first game with Point, said his view was pretty good, too.
"(Point is) definitely a special player," Johnson said. "Just watching him, he's got the skill, he's got the work ethic. He's got everything. The biggest thing, in talking to him, is how mature he is, where he is mentally, it's pretty special. He's going to have a heck of a future."
The Lightning is counting on that from Point, a third-round pick from 2014 who is heading into his first full pro season with AHL Syracuse. Tampa Bay might need Point, a 5-foot-10 center, to eventually step in if Johnson, a restricted free agent next summer, can't be afforded long-term.
"Do we have high hopes for him? There's no question," coach Jon Cooper said of Point. "But is there any sense to rush Brayden Point? There is not. We're really excited he's in our system. He's going to have a bright future in this league, whenever it starts."
Welcome back: Cooper returned from the World Cup, and was behind the bench for Tuesday's exhibition opener. G Andrei Vasilevskiy (Russia) and G Ben Bishop (USA) shared the net during a workout before the morning skate.
Vasilevskiy, who didn't play at all for Russia, took the first flight back Sunday after getting eliminated Saturday. He didn't rule out playing in one of the exhibitions later this week (Thursday, Friday, Saturday). "Why not?" he said, smiling.
Bishop, whose Team USA was eliminated Thursday, was encouraged with how his ankle, hurt during the Eastern Conference final, held up in a few exhibitions and Thursday's loss to the Czech Republic. "I'm ready," he said.
First taste: With several prospects making their exhibition debuts Tuesday, Cooper figured there would be a lot of emotions.
And Cooper thought that was partly why the Lightning fell behind 3-0 to Carolina after two periods. But after the kids settled down, Tampa Bay nearly pulled off a comeback. Bokondji Imama, a 2015 draft pick, scored in his debut. "It was just amazing," he said.
First-round pick Brett Howden, second-round pick Libor Hajek (assist), Mathieu Joseph and Matt Spencer were among those who debuted.
"All you want to see is if there's a light at the end of the tunnel for some of these guys," Cooper said. "And I think there is for a lot of these guys."
Nuts and bolts: Veteran D James Wisniewski, on a camp tryout, was encouraged how he felt in his first full game in 11/2 years, having missed almost all of last season with a torn ACL: "I didn't feel like I was lost out there." … Cory Conacher continued to skate on a line with Johnson and LW Alex Killorn. Other regulars who played were RW J.T. Brown, D Braydon Coburn, D Slater Koekkoek and D Luke Witkowski. … G Kristers Gudlevskis started, stopping 21 of 23 shots; Adam Wilcox relieved him and stopped 14 of 15.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.