TAMPA — The "man cave" in the garage of Todd Hudson's Saskatchewan ranch is basically a shrine to Lightning rookie forward Brayden Point.
The Hudsons were Point's host family the four years he played for the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors. Decorating Hudson's cedar-covered cave are two framed Point jerseys between those of former Warriors greats Theo Fleury, the retired NHL wing, and Morgan Rielly, the Leafs' top-pair defenseman.
It's fitting. Like the 5-foot-6 Fleury, Point, at 5-11, has felt the "too small" label. The Lightning actually went to scout Rielly at Moose Jaw in five seasons ago when they first saw his teammate Point. Then a slight center fresh out of midget hockey, Point shined in the playoffs, starting his path to becoming a regular in the Lightning lineup.
"He's just proved to everyone around him and all his teammates that he belongs where he is now," Hudson said. "I'm not surprised."
Many were stunned when Point, 20, made the Lightning out of training camp. He became the only first-year pro with AHL eligibility to start the season in Tampa Bay since general manager Steve Yzerman took over in 2010. Some assumed Point would get sent back to the AHL when wing Ryan Callahan returned from hip surgery in early November.
But here he is, a fixture in the Lightning top-six and power play, with seven points in his first 20 NHL games heading into tonight's game with the Flyers at Amalie Arena.
Yzerman recently informed Point he could look for a place to live in Tampa and move out of the downtown hotel he's stayed at since September training camp. Point is here to stay.
"He put us on notice," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's not here to go to the American League. If he could make this hockey team, he was going to do it. He never gave us a reason to send him down."
Point grew up in Calgary. Living on the Hudson ranch with 20,000 feeder cattle and 1,000 cows was a huge change. Point pitched in, sweeping the garage, shoveling feed, collecting firewood.
On spring Sundays, he joined Hudson and a few others hunting, mostly for gophers.
Todd recalls the first time he saw Point, when Point joined Moose Jaw for the 2011-12 playoffs.
"The day he showed up, he was 125 pounds, he was in the dressing room and the captain of the Warriors was Kendall McFaull. He's looking at this young kid like, 'What are you doing here?' McFaull thought he was a brother of someone who was playing, was going to kick him out."
Point proved he belonged. He tied for the team lead with seven goals, 10 points in 14 games. "It was like, 'Wow,' " Hudson said. "Is this kid for real?"
It was Rielly who unintentionally put Point on the Lightning's radar. Yzerman and Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray went to scout Rielly, who would go No. 5 overall to Toronto in the 2012 NHL draft. Tampa Bay kept its eyes on Point, trading up a spot in the third round of the 2014 NHL draft to snag him.
"There's not many times where he's not the hardest working player, not many times where he's not the smartest player, and that's with and without the puck," Murray said.
Point racked up three consecutive 35-plus goal seasons in Moose Jaw and became captain. Coach Tim Hunter said Point was the best player in the WHL last season.
Point got to meet Fleury at the team's 50th anniversary celebration. Hudson took a photo of the two, noting Point is 4 inches taller than Fleury, who played 16 years in the NHL.
"I said to Pointer, 'He's a small guy, you're not a small guy,' " Hunter said. " 'You should be able to play in the NHL, so don't let anybody tell you're small.' "
Said Hudson: "That kind of made Brayden feel pretty good. Here's a superstar and I'm bigger than you. I'll be all right.' You can see his mind going."
Point never saw Fleury play. He wasn't even a Flames fan.
Point idolized the Canucks' Markus Naslund, a poster of the wing still on his bedroom wall.
From a young age, Point dreamt big.
"I'm sure he was (Steven) Stamkos in the driveway," Grant said.
Point impressed everybody, including Stamkos, at last year's training camp.
His hockey sense was "off the charts," Cooper said.
The skill was there. "He's got everything," Tyler Johnson said.
So was the maturity. "He doesn't seem like a 20-year-old,' Callahan said.
This year, Point had a better opportunity in camp thanks to 12 Lightning players participating in the World Cup. With Callahan rehabbing and Nikita Kucherov's contract holdout, Point stated his case.
"He deserved a spot on the roster," Yzerman said. "He makes us a better team."
But Point may not be in Tampa without the transformation in his skating. He worked on it all last season, with skating coach Barb Underhill focusing on his ankle flexion and explosiveness.
"He went from being an acceptable skater to being an exceptional skater," Hunter said.
And an NHL regular. When Point recorded his first point Oct. 15 with an assist against the Devils, he mailed the commemorative puck to Hudson, figuring the man cave would be a perfect spot.
"It's on its way," Hudson said.
And so is Point.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTImes_JSmith.
Late Monday summary
First Period—1, Nashville, Arvidsson 6 (Ellis, Josi), 4:25. Penalties—None.
Second Period—2, Nashville, Subban 4 (Ellis, Ribeiro), 9:55 (pp). 3, Nashville, Subban 5 (Ellis, Forsberg), 12:35. Penalties—Point, TB, (tripping), 8:19; Killorn, TB, (hooking), 10:23; Subban, NSH, (roughing), 14:45; Namestnikov, TB, (roughing), 14:45.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Johnson 7 (Hedman, Kucherov), 19:10. Penalties—Arvidsson, NSH, (cross checking), 7:54; Hedman, TB, (interference), 8:23; Fisher, NSH, (roughing), 14:19; Paquette, TB, (interference), 17:23; Ellis, NSH, Major (interference), 18:27; Brown, TB, (roughing), 18:27; Ellis, NSH, Misconduct (misconduct), 18:27; Brown, TB, Misconduct (misconduct), 18:27.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 8-7-10—25. Nashville 10-13-7—30.
Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Nashville 1 of 4.
Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 7-6-0 (30 shots-27 saves). Nashville, Rinne 7-5-3 (25-24).
A—17,113 (17,113). T—2:36.