Building off a breakthrough: Brayden Point
Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This one is tough.
There are solid cases to be made for Yanni Gourde and Mikhail Sergachev, but Point -- at least in this scribe’s eyes -- edges out the two rookies because of his fantastic playoff performance.
But not only that.
Point went from and 18-goal scorer in his rookie season to eclipse the 30-goal mark in his sophomore campaign with 32, and bumped his point total from 40 in 68 games to 66 in 82. He tied Nathan MacKinnon for the most game-winning goals with 12, showing not only can he score, but he can find the best time to do so.
In the playoffs, Point subsequentlyy showed he could produce under the pressures of the most meaningful games of his career, amassing 16 points in 17 games while being, arguably, Tampa’s best player in the Boston series Tampa won and the Washington series they lost.
There’s a legitimate chance that the former Western Hockey League standout becomes a point-per-game player this season, which is scary for opposing teams given how stacked the Lightning already are offensively.
“You want players from other teams to think, ‘This isn’t going to be an easy night for us,’” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said during the playoffs. "[Point] does that, regardless of who he’s playing against. If it doesn’t work out for him early, you know he’ll find a way to make sure it does.”
A third-round pick isn’t supposed to be this good yet, never mind a team’s No. 2 center. He’s only ever played nine games in the American Hockey League -- he had four points in that stint three years ago -- and has seemingly made the transition from junior elite to NHL star with ease.
He may not have not been afforded the chance, at least in such a high capacity, if not for Steven Stamkos’ freak injury in 2016-17, but Point showed he wasn’t just up to the task, he was well-prepared for it.
Point’s shot share numbers were 52.02 this season, down slightly from the 52.73 he posted in his rookie year, but consider that he played 14 more games with minimal falloff. His goals-for percentage jumped from 54.79 percent to 59.43 percent and his five-on-five shooting percentage boosted from 8.79 percent to 10.02 percent.
Point enters a contract year this year, with his three-year entry-level deal set to expire at seasons’ end. Given how well he’s handled everything that’s been thrown his way in his brief NHL career, it’s likely Point’s best is still yet to come, handing general manager Steve Yzerman yet another big contract to try and fit under the salary cap.