Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Brayden Point said playing in the American Hockey League with Syracuse at the end of the 2014-15 was an “eye-opening” experience.
Point’s season with Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League ended March 21, the center leading the Warriors in goals (38) and points (87) for a second-straight year. Five days later, Point signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Lightning that included an AHL amateur try out to finish the season in Syracuse.
Forty eight hours later, he made his pro debut with the Crunch, firing three shots and getting time on the power play. Point played in nine of Syracuse’s final 10 games and contributed two goals and two assists. In two playoff games, the Calgary native was kept off the scoresheet as Syracuse was swept in three by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Point, 19, said the difference in size and strength between juniors and the AHL took time to get comfortable with. At 5-foot-9, 156 pounds, Point is built similar to Tyler Johnson, but about 30 pounds lighter, and was the smallest player on the Crunch.
“It’s much more of a battle up in the AHL than it is in juniors,” Point said. “…I didn’t expect that. You definitely have to grind it out. There are struggles and adversity, and that’s something that doesn’t always happen in juniors. I’m glad I got to experience it, and I’m glad (Lightning management) gave me the chance to experience it.”
Currently, Point is in the midst of his second Lightning rookie camp. In the Bolts opening game versus Nashville at a four-day-long prospect tournament in Estero on Saturday, Point delivered a goal and an assist in Tampa Bay’s 5-1 rout.
The Lightning resume action Sunday against Washington (7 p.m. puck drop), and Point figures to again be a focal point of the Bolts offense.
“I kind of have a little better feel of the game,” Point said. “Hopefully it continues on and carries into mini-camp.”
Syracuse head coach Rob Zettler, who also pilots the 23 Lightning prospects during the tournament, said Point is developing the other facets of his game when he doesn’t have the puck.
“We know the offense is there,” Zettler said. “We want to see him play well defensively and play responsibly.”
Because of his age, Point will have to spend at least one final season in juniors, 2015-16 being his fourth full season at that level, all with Moose Jaw. He’s averaged over a point a game in the WHL, putting up 236 in 204 games. This past season, he ranked ninth in league for goals and points.
So what’s left for Point to prove in juniors?
“He’s probably going to get a chance to play in the World Juniors,” Zettler said. “That’ll be a great challenge. For him, it’s just keep improving his game on the defensive side…He’s going to run into stronger guys, and he’s a smaller guy. He uses his speed well, he uses his body well but he’s going to have to fight off bigger, tougher, stronger people in the future.”
Point impressed at Hockey Canada’s World Junior Summer Showcase in early August, tallying an event-best eight points in just two games and tying for most goals with three. By all accounts, he was one of the best players on the ice when he was out there.
Point has continued to turn heads at Lightning rookie camp with his speed, stick handling and maneuverability and said the key to carrying over his success from last season to the summer to camp is to remain comfortable and confident.
“There’s someone in the stands that you can impress every night,” he said. “I’ll just try to keep working hard, and I feel that I’ve still got lots to prove.”