At this morning’s Tampa Bay Lightning practice, there were increasing signs that Brayden Point was closing in on returning to the lineup. He was a full participant, centering the top line between Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. He also resumed his place on the first power play unit that Tyler Johnson had been occupying. The Lightning’s next game is Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs and it looks like he’s ready to make his return in Toronto.
We got further confirmation of that at noon today. Gemel Smith was placed on waivers yesterday, a fact that seemed to go unnoticed on social media, and cleared without being claimed today. Passing through waivers clears the way for Smith to be assigned to the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. He was also not present at practice this morning.
When opening night rosters were announced, Smith was the player that I guessed would be the first one to go when Point was ready to return. He’s a serviceable fourth liner that has speed and can kill penalties. However, my big concern was his ability to control possession of the puck. Through three games, the fourth line has not been successful in controlling the puck and staying in the offensive zone. The saving grace for the trio of Smith, Pat Maroon, and Luke Witkowski, was that they proved to be good at keeping the puck to the outside in their defensive zone and getting to the inside on the occasions they made it into the offensive zone.
Smith was brought in this summer to be a depth forward. He’s served that role so far in filling in while Point and Cedric Paquette were injured. Now, he can go to the Syracuse Crunch and fill a big offensive role. In the event the Lightning suffer multiple forward injuries again this year, Smith will be on the list of players that could be called up. He’ll need to perform in Syracuse though as the Lightning front office decisions have been generally been merit based when it comes to injury call-ups.
Brayden Point is coming off of off-season hip surgery which kept him from playing right from the start of the season. The initial indication was that he’d be ready to go around the end of October, but he is beating that prognosis. Point signed a three-year, $6.75 million contract during training camp as a restricted free agent to end a long negotiation. Point is coming off a career season where he set highs in goals (41), assists (51), points (92), plus-minus (+27), power play goals (20 which also lead the NHL), and shooting percentage (21.5%).
The Lightning have struggled through the first three games having gone 1-1-1. They played well enough in the season opened to take the win. The team then fell behind to the Florida Panthers in the second game and couldn’t complete the comeback win. Then in the third game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Lightning were dismantled only getting two shots on goal in the last 42 minutes of the game. It was one of the worst games ever played in the past 12 years. The first power play unit also hasn’t been able to do much so far with both power play goals scored coming from the second unit.
Hopefully, Brayden Point’s return will bring more juice to the line up not just at even strength but on the power play as well. The Lightning really need to buckle down and play a structured game, which they completely failed to do against the Hurricanes. Point’s return also re-shuffles the lineup a little bit getting everyone closer to being in their correct spots in the line up, even though Jon Cooper appears to be content with experimenting some more.