Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point said it wasn't even on his radar that he could be a possible replacement for injured Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game this weekend at AMALIE Arena in Tampa.
So when Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gave him a call following the Bolts' 4-3 overtime victory in Nashville to break the news he was in, Point was "surprised" to learn he would be headed to the league's showcase of its best players in just his second season.
"So unexpected," Point said following Tampa Bay's morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center in preparation for tonight's game against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bolts' final game before the All-Star break. "Obviously, just super happy and honored to have been picked. I think there's other guys having good seasons, but obviously just happy to go."
Video: 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend Preview
There may be other players in the Atlantic Division having good seasons that would have been worthy replacements for Hedman, but Point is having a heck of a sophomore campaign too and was deserving of the honor. In just 48 games, Point has already surpassed his totals from his rookie season, putting up 19 goals and 24 assists, ranking second on the Lightning for goals and third for points. He's one of the Bolts' most versatile players too. His line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat (when healthy) regularly hops over the boards to match up against the opposition's top scorers. He's the Lightning's top penalty killing forward in terms of shorthanded time on ice, averaging 2:09 a night. He sees plenty of time on the power play too and has been instrumental in giving the Lightning two really good power-play units, part of the reason why they rank fourth in the NHL for power-play percentage (23.8 percent) and have more power-play goals (40) than all but two teams.
He's also a top face-off man for the Lightning, winning 48.5 percent of his draws, and isn't afraid to mix it up either as he's one of just two Bolts to record a Gordie Howe hat trick, registering a goal, assist and fight December 14 at Arizona.
"Couldn't be happier for him," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "I think anybody that watches our team closely, there are a lot of big names that jump off the page, Stamkos and Kuch and Vasy and Hedman, but if you're really watching us close, one guy that kind of makes us tick (is) Brayden Point. Just really happy the league looked into that, and I know there are so many candidates out there that could have come to the game, but he's more often than not, he's the straw that stirs the drink and couldn't be happier for him."
Point said the first thing he did after ending his surprise phone call with Yzerman was reach out to his parents back in Calgary.
"Woke them up in the middle of the night just to tell them," he said. "Because it was so unexpected. They're all super happy for me. I got a lot of texts and calls saying congratulations. It was pretty cool."
Point said he's most looking forward to being around so many talented players in one place this weekend.
"I'm a little nervous to be honest with you," he said. "Being on the same ice with all those guys is pretty sweet. I don't know what to expect. I'm just happy to be there, and I'm just going to try to have as much fun as I can."
With Point added to the Atlantic Division roster, it also keeps alive the possibility of an all-Lightning lineup when the Atlantic takes the ice at AMALIE Arena, especially with Cooper the one behind the bench making the calls.
"I think it's going to help me be more comfortable that I have some teammates there," Point said.
SERGACHEV SCRATCHED AGAIN: Cooper said Lightning rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev will be a spectator again tonight as the Lightning battle the red-hot Flyers.
Sergachev was a healthy scratch for the first time this season when the Lightning rallied to defeat the Nashville Predators 4-3 in overtime on Tuesday for their first victory at Bridgestone Arena since 2008. Cooper said the Bolts will go with the same lineup tonight in Philadelphia, the lone exception being in net where Andrei Vasilevskiy will get his 40th start of the season. Vasilevskiy posted his seventh shutout, tying a Lightning franchise record for most shutouts in a season held by Nikolai Khabibulin (2001-02), in Tampa Bay's 2-0 win in Chicago on Monday.
"I think it's impressive at his age that he's in the National Hockey League," Cooper said of Sergachev. "That's what's impressive to me. I think that's the way you've got to look at it. You look at the end of the year and he's going to have a lot more games in the lineup than out, so never hurts to take a step back, sit and watch and learn. But as I said, he's a really, really talented player. He's got a long future in this league."