Lightning's Brayden Point always seems in right place, even with winning goals off his knee

Lightning center Brayden Point, left, hustles to secure the puck near the Panthers’ empty net during the third period Friday.
Lightning center Brayden Point, left, hustles to secure the puck near the Panthers’ empty net during the third period Friday.
Published Oct. 11, 2017

TAMPA — There is a saying in hockey that the puck follows the good players, and right now the puck is following Brayden Point.

Take Monday night in overtime against the Capitals, when a blast from Nikita Kucherov found the right leg of Point just above his knee, then found the back of the net for the winner.

It was, Point said, one of the more unusual goals he has ever scored.

"I'll take it," he said.

And how about this? Point admits he was out of position.

"I should have been trying to screen (the goalie) a little more than I was," he said.

So, he was a little fortunate. But Point created his luck by skating to the front of the net while Steven Stamkos sent a pass from the right side to Kucherov, who was in the faceoff circle. Point was ready to jump on a possible rebound as Kucherov let fly with a one-timer.

"He has great awareness," Alex Killorn said of Point. "The puck follows him around the ice."

Credit Point's ability to anticipate what will develop and get to an area before the puck.

"He's got that blend of the hockey sense and the drive, and he works and works," coach Jon Cooper said, "and usually those guys succeed."

The 5-foot-10 Point leads the team with seven points and is tied with Kucherov with a team-high three goals — one in each game.

"He's been one of our best if not our best player so far," Killorn said.

After spending most of training camp playing both wings, Point was moved to center on the line with Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde.

"That's where he is best, and he has the ability to make his linemates better," Cooper said.

The unit has been matched with potent lines on the two teams the Lightning have played — the Panthers and Capitals. They have handled the challenge.

"I think we're all pretty similar players," Point said. "We all think the game in a similar way. We're all just hard-working guys that like to cycle the puck. It's nothing really too fancy. It's a hard-working game, kind of a grinding game."

Point was a surprise pick to make the team at the start of last season. He rose from the fourth line to the first because of all the injuries but also because he earned the promotions. He missed 14 games in the middle of the season with a broken finger and returned a more confident player, having spent the downtime studying the top forwards during Lightning games.

"I just think I was more comfortable with myself when I came back," he said. "Pucks started to go in, and I started to get some bounces."

Point played for Team Canada over the summer in the IIHF World Championships, centering the line with Mitch Marner of the Maple Leafs and Travis Konecny of the Flyers. It was the fourth line but quickly became Team Canada's best line, said Killorn, a member of Team Canada.

Like he has done with Palat and Gourde, Point quickly developed chemistry with Marner and Konecny.

"These are rising players in the NHL and right away he had it," said Cooper, who coached Team Canada. "Then you put him on the penalty kill and he was one of our top penalty-killers. The more situations you put him in, he excels at it. Well, give me another situation. When he fit in with the top players in the league, we knew we were going to be okay."

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When asked for Point's best attribute on the ice, Cooper said his competitiveness.

"He's leading the charge when it comes to that," Cooper said. "If you are a little smaller in stature, you got to do something better than everyone else, and one of the things he does is he wins puck battles.

"If you look at how many times in a game there are 50-50 puck battles, Braydon Point more often than not comes out with the puck, regardless of the size he's going against. The more players you can accumulate that do that stuff means puck possession and so many other things that go to your game. It's that attribute that has got him in the door and now has him playing top-line minutes."