Tampa Bay needs Brayden Point to succeed. Point recorded 40 points in his rookie season in 2016-17, and that number leapt to 66 last year. It is conceivable that Point could post 80-plus points this season. Young, superstar centers are the league’s most valuable assets and, with Steven Stamkos aging out of his scoring prime, it would be awfully convenient to have Point rise to this role. The Lightning can assist him by putting him with the right linemates and by placing him in situations where he can thrive.
The Lightning’s penalty kill stunk last season. It was 28th in the NHL, and yet the Lightning happily trotted out Point and put his body in harm’s way in a feeble attempt to try to quell the opposing power play. Point led all Lightning forwards in shorthanded time on ice, and he did lead the Lightning in shorthanded goals. However, while Point seems durable, he is far too important to the team to jeopardize his health with a broken foot off a shot block. Stamkos saw under 32 minutes on the season, so maybe the Lightning can deploy Point sporadically if they are really desperate for a goal. But best-case scenario would be to use him more like Cooper used Nikita Kucherov, who accumulated less than 30 seconds on the penalty kill all season.
One way to prop up Point’s point production would be moving him onto the first power-play unit. Stamkos collected 33 power-play points last season; Kucherov accrued 36. Point’s power-play scoring suffered as a result of being buried on the second unit as he finished the season with only 11 points with the man advantage.
During the postseason, Point saw time sandwiched between J.T. Miller as the net-front presence and Victor Hedman at the point. In the middle slot, Point can be a vector of playmaking. He can uncork a shot by retreating to a quiet space, like T. J. Oshie does with great effect. Point can pounce on the rebound if Miller tries to jam the puck in off the goal line. He can let the pass trickle through from Kucherov to Stamkos, or the reverse of that. And he adds danger off the entry since he is a threat to attack off the wing.
The Lightning had Point on the second power-play unit as a way of attempting to balance out the man-advantage groups. But for this reason he saw almost 100 less minutes of power-play ice time than Kucherov. I understand Cooper’s rationale, but Alex Killorn, who Point would be replacing as the bumper on the power play, saw 45 more minutes with the man advantage than Point, which is completely asinine. This needs to change starting game one of the season.
There is a conundrum about whether to keep Point with Tyler Johnson. When Johnson is away from Point, opponents generate more Scoring Chances than the Lightning do. That same negative impact is true for shot attempts, and that was true during the regular season and playoffs. However, when those two were together with Ondrej Palat, they were one of the Lightning’s best lines. At 5v5, they led the Lightning in Goals Plus-Minus and fared very well in shot attempts.
Nevertheless, I think there are warning signs that Johnson may be heading for a big dip in his efficacy, and Cooper should be attuned to the possibility of Johnson being a millstone on Point’s influence at even strength. The Lightning want Point to play with players who do not need the puck to be effective. Palat’s numbers from the regular season and postseason bespeak a forward who is more self-reliant. He isn’t as fast as Johnson, but he is a strong two-way player and retrieves the puck commendably so he checks that box, and the numbers show that Yanni Gourde may as well. Let Point create and be puck dominant while they fetch the puck after shot attempts and do the dirty work below the goal line. The Lightning have 82 games to decide which players provide the right complement to Point.
Point generated over 2.5 shots per game last season, and yet, that is not nearly enough. Point seems to be quicker with the puck than most players are without it. To be able to transport the puck to any place on the ice, and obtain enough separation that defensemen cede the off-slot, demonstrates star potential. Point is obviously not Connor McDavid, but one could argue that McDavid’s greatest strength is his acceleration and its consequences on the enemy defense.
Point needs to be less deferential. If the defenseman kowtows and surrenders a loose gap, Point should not force the pass unless he has Kucherov on the wing. Sometimes, Point would try to lug the puck from the outside to the middle-to-low slot in hopes of securing optimal shooting position. But while his shot is potent, he would also lose opportunities by trying to finesse through a throng of defenders. Point poses a far greater danger if he records more attempts. He had a high shooting percentage of 14.7 last season, and the chances are high that it will decrease this season. If Point’s shooting percentage goes down by one percentage point, but he still wants to surpass his goal total by five, he will need to fire 270 shots. That sounds high, but Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton collected 270 shots last year. With Point’s speed, anything under 290 is attainable and would not detract from his passing.
Ultimately, most players in the league cannot shoot like Alexander Ovechkin or Patrik Laine. For the rest, forwards should be focused on getting the puck off their stick as quickly as possible once they have reached a scoring area. For Point, the single most important skill he needs to develop is cranking a shot in stride off the wing near the faceoff dot. Phil Kessel is incredible at this maneuver, but on many of his goals, it is not the power of the shot but the flick-of-the-wrist release that catches the goaltender unprepared.
Point scored over 30 goals last season, but there were times when he held onto the puck too long, and by waiting, the goaltender was able to square up and eliminate the shooting angles. Also, when a forward poses a threat to score from the off-slot, the defender is forced to challenge him outside the middle, thereby opening up lanes to the inside. It also opens up the seam if Point decides to pass.
The Lightning discovered a gem in Point. For Tampa Bay to reach the Cup final, they will need him to take another step forward. That means redistributing his minutes on special teams and forcing him to assume more of an alpha role. Point needs to be more selfish when he enters the zone. With his speed and balance, he always has the defense on its heels. In any walk of life, one should attack when the enemy is in retreat.