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Ten Things We Want to See Next Season #5: Brayden Point Further Emerges as a Star

Seriously, how can you not love Brayden Point?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ten Things We Want to See is a series of articles we’re running on Raw Charge that look at ten things that we, the staff, would like to see happen during the 2018-19 season. It represents our hopes, our fears, and our wildest dreams for this coming season. We hope to be able to look back next summer and check off that each one happened.

In the hearts and minds of Lightning fans, Brayden Point is already a star. However, the term “star” wasn’t used as much around the league in regards to Point (there were some who gladly applied the term, and others who didn’t). It’s fine though, Point probably prefers to have a low profile before he casually skates onto the ice and tilts the rink in Tampa Bay’s favor while shutting down an opposing team’s top offensive threats.

With Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov leading the charge offensively on the top line, the second line was left in the hands of a then 21 year old third round pick who was entering his second season in the NHL. Point took this assignment and looked like a savvy veteran. In his rookie year, Point scored 18 goals and 40 points—pretty good for a rookie who was thrust into a bigger role due to injuries. Year two saw Point pot 32 goals and 66 points in addition to establishing himself as one of the best young two-way forwards in the league.

Just for reference, there were only two 30+ goal scorers on the Lightning last season—Nikita Kucherov and Point. Additionally, only two Lightning forwards scored 20+ even strength goals last season—Kucherov and Point. Point led the team and tied for the league lead in game-winning goals with 12 (he was tied with Nathan MacKinnon, a Hart Trophy candidate). Point led the team in total faceoffs taken with 1174 (second belonged to Steven Stamkos at 892). Point also saw more time on the penalty kill than any other forward on the team, and produced the most shorthanded points with five (which also tied him for the most in the league).

He did this at 21 years old, in his second season. Did I mention that he was a third round pick who fell due to his size and questionable skating ability? Just for fun, let’s take a look at the other players the Lightning drafted ahead of him in 2014.

1st Round - Anthony DeAngelo, 19th overall (the less said about him the better)

2nd Round - Dominik Masin, 35th overall (can’t hate this selection much)

2nd Round - Jonathan MacLeod, 57th overall (Tampa Bay recently let his draft rights expire)

3rd Round - Brayden Point, 79th overall

The value of Brayden Point at that spot in the draft is ridiculous.

Just to emphasize how freaking good Point was last season.

Brayden Point, 2017-2018
Micah Blake McCurdy, hockeyviz.com, @IneffectiveMath

Only one forward averaged more ice time than Point (take a wild guess who). Additionally, Point played in every situation and still produced like a legitimate top line center. The only hiccup on this chart is his power-play production. If Point is put on the top power-play unit, then the sky is the limit for how high he can go. However, if Jon Cooper wants to try and balance the offensive skill of his special team units then putting Point on the second unit could be a wise decision.

Brayden Point, 2017-2018
Micah Blak McCurdy, hockeyviz.com, @IneffectiveMath

What I’m going to focus on here are the heat maps to the right. The top is in the offensive zone, and the bottom is the defensive zone. Offensively, the heat map is ridiculous. The entire middle part of the offensive zone is flooded with shot attempts when Point is on the ice—you can’t ask for much more than that.

Defensively, it’s clear when Point is on the ice that the front of the net is mostly taken care of. However, the slot and just above the faceoff dots are areas where opposing teams repeatedly shoot from. To properly gauge this, one has to understand what the Lightning heat map looks like.

5v5 Shots Taken and Allowed
Micah Blake McCurdy, hockeyviz.com, @IneffectiveMath

These heat maps can show the similarities and differences a player has in comparison to the team. Here, Point’s shot generation is more than the Lightning as a whole, while defensively he allows more shots higher in the zone. Unfortunately, it’s also apparent the Lightning as a whole struggle with slot coverage. Hopefully, this is addressed with some new voices on the coaching staff.

On the Verge of Stardom

Now, after reading all of that, why do I want to see Brayden Point emerge as a star this season? Arguably, he’s already one, especially in the eyes of the Lightning faithful. Well, in order to be a star in the NHL, one has to consistently be among the best in the league. It took three seasons for Nikita Kucherov to get the respect he deserved in the NHL.

With Point, another season where he puts up 45+ 5v5 points, jumps up in power play scoring, shuts down the top offensive threats of the opposing team, and continues his propensity for clutch goals will make it hard for anyone outside of Tampa Bay to argue he isn’t a star in the NHL.

Now, this isn’t to say he is perfect. Point still has to improve in the faceoff dot. He took the most faceoffs for Tampa Bay, but only managed to win 47.4% of them. That’s not what you want from your second line center. To compare, Steven Stamkos took 892 faceoffs and won 52.2% of them, and Tyler Johnson took 719 and won 50.1% of those. For a team that has struggled in the faceoff dot (Tampa Bay was in the bottom five for overall faceoff percentage last season), Point improving in that area of his game would only help the team.

Additionally, in the playoffs, Point produced offensively, but his impact on the overall game was less noticeable than the regular season. During the season, Point’s 5v5 CF% was 52%, which was fourth among Lightning forwards with at least 40 games played. In the postseason, his 5v5 CF% was 48%, the second worse on the team. That’s a stark difference from the dominating play he put forth in the regular season—one that is a bit worrying.

This could be chalked up to his first playoff run, and to a certain degree I’d agree. However, it wasn’t Point’s line that was tasked with shutting down the Washington Capitals top line in the Eastern Conference Final—it was the fourth line. Point was tasked with shutting down Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils—check. Point was tasked with slowing down Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak—outside of a miserable game one, check. Point wasn’t assigned to shut down Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson in the next round—even after doing so for the previous two rounds. Maybe Cooper felt the matchup with the fourth line was better suited against that line or maybe he felt Point wasn’t playing overly well. Regardless, I think Cooper will lean on Point even more moving forward.

At the end of the day, Point’s positives greatly outweigh his negatives. I want to see Brayden Point flirt with the 70-75 point plateau next season and further cement himself as a star center in the NHL. To us, he is a star, but to the rest of the league he’s still “burgeoning” on stardom. Next season, I want him to emphatically put his stamp on the NHL once more and maybe he will finally get the respect he deserves.

Highlights

Now for the fun part. My favorite highlights of Point’s 2017-2018 season.

First Game Winning Goal of the Season

The first of a league leading 12 game winners.

He Pass, He Dangle, He Score

His filthiest goal of the season, in my opinion.

That Time He Dangled Around Zdeno Chara

That’s a Hall of Famer he did that to.

First Playoff Goal

wipes tear from cheek They grow up so fast.

Losing to Connor McDavid by 0.125 of a Second

(Point is the first skater, but McDavid doesn’t make his lap until the 7:28 mark of the video)

For a good while, it felt as though Brayden Point, a last minute addition after Victor Hedman had to sit out of the All-Star game, was going to steal the show in the fastest skater competition. Unfortunately, the phenom that is Connor McDavid edged our young hero. Regardless, this only elevated his profile even more.