In this presidential election year, we’re reminded on an almost daily basis the importance of the right political endorsements.
Turns out, endorsements can be pretty beneficial in hockey too.
Moose Jaw center Brayden Point recommended his Warriors teammate Brett Howden to the Tampa Bay Lightning before the 2016 NHL Draft.
A few weeks later in Buffalo, the Lightning selected Howden with the 27th overall pick, becoming the second first round NHL pick in his family (older brother Quinton was taken 25th overall in the 2010 draft by the Florida Panthers).
“(The Lightning) are getting a good two-way guy,” Point said during the first day of the Bolts’ development camp at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum on Tuesday, reiterating the same points he made to Lightning management during Howden’s evaluation process. “He plays good D, was on the power play and penalty kill for us this year. He did it all. He’s good on faceoffs, a good centerman, a big body obviously. He was a real leader in our room this year, even at 17 (years old). Just pretty much an all-around player.”
Point was a third round draft choice (79th overall) of the Lightning in 2014 following his third season in Moose Jaw. The year after being drafted, Point put up 87 points (38 goals, 49 assists), tops on the Warriors and tied for eighth best in the Western Hockey League.
This past season, despite missing almost two months of the season with a shoulder injury, Point averaged nearly two points a game, with 88 (35 goals, 53 assists) in 48 contests, tied for 11th-most points in the WHL.
Point helped lead Team Canada to the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships. He captained Canada’s national junior team a year later.
Certainly, his recommendation carries some weight.
So, when Lightning scouts, during their evaluation of Point’s progression, noticed a young forward with good size, skating ability and a responsible two-way game making an impact for Moose Jaw, they solicited Point’s opinion.
He was all-too happy to give it.
“They asked me about him for sure a few times, and I just gave them my honest opinion,” Point said. “Obviously, it was all good things because of the way he plays and the kind of guy he is. I never talked about the possibility about drafting him, but I gave them what I saw or what I felt playing with him.”
Lightning director of player development Stacy Roest said Point’s endorsement of Howden played a factor in the Bolts selecting him with their first pick at last weekend’s draft.
“It helps because we feel we know Brayden as well as we do and he knows Brett really well,” Roest said. “They sat beside each other in Moose Jaw in the locker room, and they spoke very highly of each other actually. That helps, of course, having Brayden there, we were in there maybe more than some other junior teams and watching Brett. Then you watch, it was fun over the last couple years watching Brett become a complete player and watching his progression as well as watching (Brayden’s).”
Howden said he’s learned a lot from Point during their two years together at Moose Jaw. Point’s competitiveness has rubbed off on Howden. The two often stick around after practice to work on the finer nuances of the game. He’s also developed some of the same leadership traits Point possesses.
“My first year (in Moose Jaw) when I was 16, we obviously knew each other, but I think as the year went on and definitely into my second year, we got a lot closer and started hanging out a lot more,” Howden said. “Once I found out I was drafted (to Tampa Bay), I got a text from him, and he was pretty excited. I was real excited to know someone where I’m going and to have a guy like him there.”
Howden scored 24 goals and notched 40 assists in his second season with Moose Jaw in 2015-16. The 18-year-old center added four goals and 11 assists in the playoffs.
He called being picked by the Lightning in the first round a “surreal” moment.
“I looked in the mirror and saw my jersey on and just started smiling,” Howden said of his opening day at development camp and first time seeing his name on the back of a Lightning jersey. “It’s a pretty cool feeling.”
In his post-draft press conference, Howden noted Point’s positive recommendation to the Lightning and said he’d have to think of a way to repay his teammate.
Point chuckled when told of Howden’s plan to repay.
“We’ll have to discuss that and figure it out,” Point said. “We’ve got the Moose Jaw golf tournament coming up here. Maybe that weekend he can get me back.”