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Lightning doing well with Moose Jaw connection

Brayden Point, Brett Howden could go from teammates in WHL to being together in Tampa Bay

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Brayden Point had a good relationship with Brett Howden when they were teammates with Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League. But that's not why he gave the Tampa Bay Lightning a positive scouting report on Howden when they asked for his opinion before the 2016 NHL Draft.

"I was honest with them," Point said. "It was good things obviously because of the kind of guy he is and the type of player he is. With [Howden], he puts all his effort in every time he's on the ice and off the ice. I think they made a good pick."

The Lightning, at least influenced to some degree by Point's comments, selected Howden with the 27th pick of the draft, Point and Howden are now two of the Lightning's top prospects.

"We were good buddies in Moose Jaw," Howden said of Point. "The fact that we get to be there together is pretty special for both of us. It's pretty nice of him to say some good things about me to help them kind of lean toward me.

"It was very exciting [to get drafted by Tampa Bay]. It was my best meeting for sure at the [2016 NHL Scouting] Combine. After doing a lot of research on them after the combine, it was the team I really wanted to go to. My dad tried to kind of keep me calm and say, hey, if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen because there's a lot of teams that could pick you. The fact that I came here, I'm very lucky and fortunate. I'm just ecstatic to be here."

Point, a third-round pick (No. 79) in the 2014 draft, will be looking for an NHL roster spot this season, but it won't be easy given Tampa Bay's depth and youth at forward.

He was a prolific scorer in junior hockey, including 38 goals and 88 points in 48 games last season with Moose Jaw, and in parts of five WHL seasons he had 324 points in 252 games. Point also has American Hockey League experience; he had two goals and two assists in nine games with Syracuse, the Lightning's AHL affiliate, in 2014-15.

Point doesn't want to speculate on when he thinks he'll become an NHL regular.

"That's always a hard question," he said. "I guess you never know until you played. I'm not worried about that. I'm just trying to work hard and feel good about my ice time every time I step on.

"They've got an awesome team and it's a really deep team. They've had two good years in a row, really good years, and it's been fun to watch. And hopefully one day ..."

Point's offensive instincts were evident at a recent prospect tournament in Coral Springs, Fla.

New Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx coached the Lightning there. He previously worked with Point when he was coach of Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. Point was captain of that team and had five points in five games.

"He's not only a skilled player, I think he's a fierce competitor," Groulx said. "When he's in a battle for the puck, when he's in a race for the puck, when he's driving the net to beat his opponent to get open, he's someone that wants to make the difference. He's someone that wants to make the play, who wants to score the goal, who wants to make that pass. That's the compete [level] he's got. And I think that's what makes the difference in his game. When you bring that skill level and that compete, I think you have a player like him."

Howden, 18, doesn't have the same offensive upside as Point; he had 24 goals and 64 points in 68 games last season. But he does have a solid two-way game to go along with good size (6-foot-2, 193 pounds).

"We always felt Brett was first and foremost very skilled," Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray said. "He's got good size, good skills and he's very smart. The more you watch him, you realize he's almost maintenance-free when it comes to the defensive part of the game and how everything comes together between offense and defense. His attention to detail is very strong."

Howden likely will spent at least one more season developing in Moose Jaw, but he isn't conceding anything.

"First and foremost, I want to gain a lot of experience," he said. "Secondly, I think it would be stupid to say that everybody is not here to make the team. Everybody here wants to make the team. That's why we're coming in. We're not coming here just to skate around. Everybody is trying really hard to try to earn a spot. If that doesn't happen, just make a good impression. That's my main goal.

"If I just stick to my game and just show them what I can do, then I think I'll be fine in the long run. I'm not going to try and be somebody I'm not out here. I'm just going to stick to my game and show them what I have."

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