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Trying to claim a Lightning roster spot? Let Brayden Point be your guide

Lightning center Brayden Point (21) skates during a team practice on Friday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)
Lightning center Brayden Point (21) skates during a team practice on Friday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)
Published Sep. 15, 2018

BRANDON — From the outside looking in, this year's Lightning training camp looks more like a tuneup than a tryout.

There are not many new faces at the top end of the roster, which does not bode well for any young players hoping to make a squad that reached the Eastern Conference final this past spring.

The Lightning blue line does not look much different from the end of last season. There likely will not be any changes at goaltender, a position where Andrei Vasilevskiy and backup Louis Domingue return. The only room at forward likely will come in the form of a spot or two on the fourth line. Even so, those spots could go to a veteran such as Andy Andreoff, traded from the Kings this offseason.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper is not about to call the roster set, though. When the lack of open spots was mentioned, he shrugged.

"One thing I have learned from (former GM) Steve Yzerman and now Julien BriseBois, it is meritocracy is the way things go here," Cooper said. "It has always been that way. Contracts are contracts. If you play well enough, you are going to find your way onto the team."

These are not hollow words. Look no farther than forward Brayden Point, who provided an example two years ago that all young players should follow if they want to make a roster filled to the brim with talent.

Point said he came into training camp in 2016-17 not expecting to make the team. He had played nine games in Syracuse during the '14-15 season and played 48 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL in 2015-16.

Then, three preseason goals turned an unexpected training camp ending into a reality when Point made the Lightning's opening day roster.

And he was there to stay. Point played in 68 games, scoring 18 goals and 22 assists.

"It just goes to show, it doesn't matter the size, the strength," Cooper said. "You improve your game, you work at your skating, you work at your stick skills, and you never know what is going to happen."

Point avoided thinking about the final numbers during camp. He didn't look around him and see how he stacked up, he said. Much of that stemmed from the fact that Point did not believe he would make the roster when camp started. He didn't play the numbers game because he never thought his number would be called.

Instead, Point made it his daily goal to make an impression on the coaching staff. And round after round of cuts, he stayed put.

"You start to feel good when you're playing, and the team is getting smaller and smaller, and you are still on the ice and still kind of keeping up," Point said. "Exhibition comes, you have a good game there. You have a good practice. It kind of starts to snowball for you."

Point admitted he was nervous about skating with some of the NHL's top players in the preseason. It took him time to determine how much he should give them the puck and when he should believe in himself to make the right play or right shot.

"You have to be confident," Point said. "You can't hold back. You've got to be a guy willing to play your game."

When he did play his game, others took notice. Tyler Johnson said Point deserved his spot. Alex Killorn said it became more clear each day that Point would make the roster and contribute to the Lightning's season.

"On the ice, he is so fast and he is so agile," Killorn said. "He seems like he is always in perfect balance. He can stop on a dime. He is obviously a great straight-line skater, but side to side, he is unbelievable."

Cooper was not shocked by Point's ascension. He knew Point was on that track because of the leadership abilities and versatility he showed in other levels of hockey.

The question was if Point, a 5-foot-10, 174-pound forward, could play with skaters who are bigger and stronger.

The answer: He could, but not by trying to play big.

"Because he is so elusive and quick, he found a way to get around bigger guys, and that is how he did it," Cooper said.

That quickness was no accident. Point worked extensively on his skating in the offseason.

"If you do the little things right and work hard, there are spots open," Point said.

With a daunting task ahead, young Lightning players would be wise not to forget it.