Brayden Point is one of the best players in the NHL. As if the rest of league didn’t have enough reason to be frustrated after the Lightning nabbed Nikita Kucherov in the 2nd round in 2011, the Bolts hit an even bigger jackpot landing Brayden Point in the third round in 2014.
It took some time for the rest of the league to recognize Kucherov as one of the game’s best. We had suspicions as early as 2014-2015 when he led one of the most dominant lines of the last decade and was the best player on the Lightning’s Stanley Cup Final team. He cemented that status by sustaining that outrageous level of play over the next few seasons.
Point is on a similar track. He surprised everyone by making the team out of training camp in 2016-2017 and over the course of that first season, became one of the best players on the team. He started a little slowly but after returning in late January from an injury that caused him to miss several weeks, he started flashing the dynamism that’s become a standard part of his game.
By mid March, he was centering the top line due to injuries to Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, and Vladislav Namestnikov. Point and Kucherov formed a dynamic duo that nearly pulled the Lightning into the playoffs with a hot late season run after a disappointing season.
Since that season, Point has been climbing to higher and higher heights as he’s earned a larger role. Kucherov had the benefit of joining a team that was short on forward talent and was able to rapidly rise up the lineup in his second year. Point had to settle for more meager usage through his first two seasons but exploded in his third when he got consistent top of the lineup ice time and moved to the first power play unit. Now in his fourth season, Point is showing that the last two years weren’t a fluke and the level of play he’s shown is real.
How high is that level of play? High enough that on a team stacked with top end talent, he has a claim to being the best player on the Lightning. High enough even that he deserves to be recognized as one of the best players in the NHL.
As evidence for that admittedly bold claim, let’s look into his results by Wins Above Replacement (WAR) from Evolving-Hockey. WAR is a holistic stat that tells us how much value a player provides in total including offense, defense, and special teams contributions.
This first plot shows the NHL’s leaders in cumulative WAR over the last three seasons. I’ve highlighted Lightning players in blue.
Point is currently third among all NHL players in WAR over the last three seasons. That’s not a small sample. That’s not an anomaly. In terms of total impact, he’s been among the very best players in the league over multiple seasones. The Lightning’s big three of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman aren’t far behind him. But they are behind him. His company at the top of the leader board is Connor McDavid, Sean Couturier, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mark Stone.
The next plot shows the the last three seasons individually so that we can see the overall trend. Point is highlighted in blue while the rest of the players are in gray.
Again, we see that he’s not riding one great year. He started his rise two years ago. Last season, he was in the fop five league wide in WAR. And this year, he’s in a similar position. Everything about his results over the last few years suggests that he’s consistently been one of the best players in the NHL.
With a clear understanding that Point has earned a placed in the conversation as one of the league’s best, let’s look at where he sits in WAR so far this season.
He’s sixth in the NHL just ahead of his teammate Victor Hedman. We’ve already established that this performance isn’t a fluke and shouldn’t even be a surprise given how Point played last season. But since news tends to take a little longer to spread from Tampa to the rest of the NHL, this is the time to start banging the drum for Point.
He deserves to be in the Hart Trophy conversation. He should have been in it last year but was overshadowed by Kucherov’s unreal 128 point season. To a certain extent, he still has that issue in that the perception is that he isn’t even the best player on his own team, let alone in the NHL. But that needs to change.
I feel confident saying that Point is better than Stamkos. I feel less confident saying he’s better than Kucherov or Hedman. But his numbers over the last few years support the case that he is, especially when we consider his defensive impact on top of his offensive contributions. At the very least, the discussion around the Lightning shouldn’t be about a big three any longer. It should be about a big four. Point is every bit as good as the other three and possibly better. He deserves the same level of media recognition and award consideration.
Being sixth in WAR isn’t yet in the range where I’m going to demand people include him on their ballots. But he should be in the discussion. And if he finishes in the top five like he did last year, he should get some votes. The fact he hasn’t even been a prominent name in the discussion of All-Star snubs indicates how far behind the public perception is on him compared to his production.
So the campaign for Brayden Point to get recognized as one of the best players in the league starts here. It took three or four years for people to come around on Kucherov. Let’s see if we can cut down on that turn around time for Point. If he sustains his play over the second half of the season, and I expect he will, we better be hearing his name come awards season.