It doesn’t seem quite accurate to say Brayden Point flew under the radar last season, what with him having a breakout campaign that saw him notch 32 goals, 66 points and finishing top 10 in Selke Trophy voting. But when your roster is led by Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, stabilized by a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman such as Victor Hedman and boasts a Vezina Trophy calibre goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy, maybe that’s exactly what Point did.
Often times last season, Point would have been the third, fourth, even fifth player mentioned when it came to the Lightning. The aforementioned forwards were, as always, the focal point, but one of last season’s rookie sensations, Yanni Gourde, also nabbed headlines. The likes of Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are also often front of mind for casual Lightning watchers, even if it has been a few years since their rise to fame as two-thirds of the Triplets. The addition of defenseman Mikhail Sergachev also drew attention, and there are others — the Alex Killorns, Anton Stralmans and the Ryan McDonaghs — who probably even still remain more front-of-mind than Point on the league-wide scale.
You should expect that to change this season, though.
Through 11 games this season, Point has been nothing short of outstanding for Tampa Bay, highlighted in no way more than his performance on Tuesday night. Almost from the moment the New Jersey Devils took an early two-goal lead on the Lightning, Point took over. Midway through the opening frame, he assisted on Tampa Bay’s first tally of the night. In the second, he scored one of his own, a go-ahead goal, before adding a second assist. And in the third, Point added two more primary assists as the Lightning put the finishing touches on an 8-3 thumping of the Devils.
A five-point night will make anyone sit up and notice, to be sure, but what stands out most about Point’s production isn’t solely his one-game performance. It’s that the five points vaulted him to the head of the class in Tampa Bay. Through 11 games, he not only has the team lead with seven goals, but his 14 points put him a pair clear of Kucherov and Gourde for second in scoring on the Lightning and into a tie for 19th in the NHL.
But in no way should we be surprised. Over the past two seasons, Point has flourished in Tampa Bay. Making the leap to the NHL straight out of the WHL in 2016-17, Point, who was selected 79th overall by the Lightning in 2014, chipped in 18 goals and 40 points in 68 outings, good for a 10th-place finish in Calder Trophy voting. He followed that up with the aforementioned, sophomore-slump busting 32-goal, 66-point campaign. And when you measure Point’s per-minute production, he lines up with some bonafide stars.
Consider that across the past two seasons, Point has notched .92 goals per 60 minutes across nearly 2,100 minutes at 5-on-5. That puts him in the same company as Logan Couture, Sean Monahan, Filip Forsberg, Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn. And when it comes to finding the scoresheet in any fashion, he has done so at a rate of 1.95 points per 60 minutes. That’s only a hair shy of the mark held by Blake Wheeler and is ahead of the likes of John Tavares, Jack Eichel and Claude Giroux. Add Point’s production through the early part of this season, too, and he’s only a fraction of a goal from being inside the top 25 in both categories across the past three combined campaigns.
That alone would be enough to make Point a standout on a team of legitimate stars — and really, you can’t help but shake your head at the amount of talent the Lightning have assembled — but it’s the other things that the 22-year-old does so well that should see him garner much more attention this season.
In a sense, Point is the Lightning’s answer to Patrice Bergeron. The third-year center is Tampa Bay’s Anze Kopitar, Sean Couturier or Jonathan Toews. That’s to say it’s his two-way play that makes him as noticeable as his offensive production, and he’s become Lightning coach Jon Cooper’s go-to guy in many situations. Not without reason. Point has taken the fewest offensive zone starts of any Bolts forward this season, yet relative to his teammates, Point boasts the 10th-best Corsi for percentage and fourth-best among forwards, the best goals for percentage and fifth-best scoring chance and high-danger chance for percentages. His 10th-place Selke finish last season was no accident, and it could have been argued he should have had a far more favorable finish than that.
Truly, the only drawback to Point’s play, if you can call it that, is the potential havoc it may wreak on the Lightning’s salary structure. In the offing is a summer in which Gourde and Stralman are set to become unrestricted free agents, which isn’t to mention incoming UFA status for veterans Braydon Coburn and Dan Girardi, as well as restricted free agency for Cedric Paquette, Adam Erne and Slater Koekkoek. With a projected $12.2 million in cap space — and maybe another $2 million or so given a potential rise in the salary cap — it’s far from unreasonable to suggest Point’s next deal could cost the Lightning close to half, if not more, of what spending room they do have available this summer.
But that should be a price Tampa Bay will be more than willing to pay. Previously, Point had only scratched the surface, and this season, it appears he’s ready to take his place as a star.