The Tampa Bay Lightning season is over. With a long summer ahead of us, we’re going to hand out grades to each player on the roster. You did your part submitting your grades via the reader survey, and they are presented along with our writers’ grades. All told, about 360 of you submitted grades, which is less than last season, but that’s understandable considering how the season went. Follow along with the series through the month of May and share your thoughts in the comments.
Brayden Point got on the hockey world’s radar with a surprise All-Star appearance and a stellar playoff performance in 2017-2018. Coming into this season, one of the questions for the Lightning was whether he could replicate that performance. He did not replicate it. He exceeded it. Comfortably.
Two years ago, Brayden Point was 20th in the NHL in WAR. That’s great! Last year, he was 4th. That’s somehow even better! Normally, when a player finishes top 20 in WAR in a given season, you don’t expect them to follow it with another even better season. But that’s just what Point did.
For those who prefer more traditional stats, Point scored 91 points, which was 13th in the NHL. No matter how you slice the numbers, he was one of the very best players in the league this season.
The following card shows that as well as how the Raw Charge community graded him. Wins Above Replacement and the expected goal impacts come from Evolving Hockey. The xG impacts include all situations.
I have to say, if Brayden Point doesn’t get an A+ for his season, I’m not sure what possibly would. He was the fourth best player in the NHL by WAR. He was a massive play driver. His offensive impacts were outrageous. His defensive impacts were about average. I guess if you’re looking for an area of improvement, that’s it. But that’s the nittiest of nitpicking. Point did as much as we can reasonably hope for any player to do in a season.
He was great at 5v5 just like last year. But what carried him into the stratosphere was finding a home on the top power play unit. At the beginning of the year, he was playing in the right circle on the second unit. He wasn’t scoring and seemed poorly suited for that role. You can read more about that here.
In November, the team moved him to the slot on the top unit in between Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. He feasted in that role all season given the Bolts opposition no good choices when dealing with that group. Over the course of the season, teams started to adapt a little better and his scoring slowed but his performance should be enough to keep him locked into that unit for the foreseeable future. And if that’s the case, he looks to be set to score 70+ points for as long as he stays healthy.
One side effect of Point’s stellar season is that it complicates the Lightning’s cap situation. By reaching these heights so early in his career, Point has put himself in a position to be payed like one of the best young players in the game. That could mean a long term high dollar deal. Or it could mean a short term bridge deal at a lower value. But the days of thinking Point might be in the class of players who get the typical 6x6 type contract extension are over. He’s going to be one of the highest paid players on the team at some point. All that remains to be seen is whether it happens this summer or a couple years from now.
The Lightning are fortunate to be spoiled for talent at forward. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are two of the best forwards in the game. Stamkos was always projected to be that and was the first overall pick in his draft. Kucherov was more of a surprise and wasn’t selected until the second round. Point joins them at their elite level and was even more of a surprise coming from a third round pick.
Stamkos has long gotten credit for being a superstar. Kucherov started to get the same treatment this year with his 128 point season and is the likely Hart Trophy recipient. Even in the slow to adapt world of hockey, another season or two like this from Point and he will be considered to be in the same class.
In a just world, he would have gotten consideration for the Hart Trophy this season. After all, if we’re nominating five players, and Point finishes fourth in WAR, he’s by definition one of the five most valuable layers in the league. But realistically, that’s not going to happen for a former third round pick in his first season as a featured player. It takes time to build the momentum required for traditional media and awards voters to recognize the game’s new stars.
Even though he probably didn’t get the recognition he deserved this year, if he continues to perform at this level, he will find himself in trophy conversations soon enough. When he first made the team, head coach Jon Cooper speculated that Point might have a Selke Trophy in his future. At the time, that seemed like a bold proclamation. But over the last two seasons, Point has shown that his ceiling is even higher than that. He appears to have a Hart Trophy caliber season in him. Whether he ever gets one will depend on lots of factors outside his control but he’s already shown he’s capable of hitting that level.