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Point could return for Lightning against Maple Leafs

Center missed first three games of season recovering from hip surgery

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

Brayden Point could make his season debut for the Tampa Bay Lightning when they play at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, SNO, SUN, NHL.TV).

The 23-year-old center, who had offseason hip surgery, was a full participant at practice Tuesday and was on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. He played on the top power-play unit for the first time since rejoining the Lightning (1-1-1) after signing a three-year, $20.25 million contract ($6.75 million average annual value) on Sept. 23.

"Just to be part of the practice is exciting," Point said. "I was pretty happy coming here knowing I was going to be on a line and in the drills, so it's another step and I'm excited.

"I thought I felt pretty good today. It was another step. Just getting to practice was awesome."

Point had an NHL career-high 92 points (41 goals, 51 assists) last season, including an NHL-best 20 power-play goals, helping the Lightning win the Presidents' Trophy and tie the NHL single-season record with 62 victories.

Assistant coach Todd Richards said the Lightning are a much better team with Point in the lineup.

"It's exciting. I think it's a boost to our team," Richards said. "We're adding a really good player back into our lineup. … He's one of the guys that really drives the team with the energy out on the ice, the way that he plays, not only making plays in the offensive zone, but he's a particularly good two-way player. He works both ends of the ice. A great addition putting him back into the lineup."

The Lightning returned forward Gemel Smith to Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Tuesday, leaving them with 12 forwards and indicating that Point is likely to play against Toronto. The initial prognosis after surgery was that Point wouldn't be ready to return until late October.

"A long summer, a lot of rehab, a lot of skating by myself and here too," Point said. "The guys would kind of do their practice, and then I'd skate after. It's a lot of self drills, but [it's] just good to be back with the team."

Tampa Bay won its season opener, 5-2 at home against the Florida Panthers on Thursday but began a six-game road trip with a 4-3 loss to Florida on Saturday, then lost 4-3 in overtime to the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

"Playing with him, you have to play fast because he's a fast player. He forces you to skate," Richards said. "He forces you to keep up with him. He can be one of the guys that really drives the speed of our game, the speed of our game in that particular shift. 

"I'm expecting us as a team, if he is in the lineup on Thursday, to be a faster team just by the way that he plays, the style that he plays. He forces everyone to play faster."

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