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The Three Points

May 10, 2019, 9:21 AM ET [5 Comments]
Sam Hitchcock
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
No one knows what the future holds. As a writer who playfully traffics in reckless speculation, I am consistently in awe of the way the NHL, like life, never loses its ability to surprise. In Paul Auster’s novel 4, 3, 2, 1, the life of the main character, Archibald Ferguson, is developed in four different alternative realities. Ferguson’s characteristics stay consistent, but the details surrounding his life are changed. Applying this to the Lightning’s Brayden Point, his traits are clear, but how his career path will unfold is up to conjecture.

Reality 1: The dynamic playmaker
Like Connor McDavid, Brayden Point is already an elite skater who uses his acceleration to create separation. In this future reality, while Point never reaches the same level of dominance as McDavid, he uses that skill set to impose his will. He also embraces what McDavid already knows: making too many passes to lesser players, instead of calling his own number, hurts his team.

Point took 26 less shots this season than he did in the prior year, albeit in three fewer games. This was especially peculiar considering his overwhelming success shooting on the first unit of the power play. Mostly from the bumper spot, Point potted 20 of his 41 goals.

In this future reality, Point would recognize that his speed gives him leverage in terms of where his release point is on his shot. Point had far too many shots blocked on the rush, and this is primarily because he would skate into the opponent’s stick and give him an opportunity to eliminate the shooting lane.

Point wants to emulate McDavid in terms of controlling the pace of the rush. Point can gain leverage and manipulate the defenseman by changing speed or going from the outside to the inside (or inside to the outside). He needs to start shooting more in stride and from the off-slot. If he is maximizing his potential as the dynamic playmaker archetype, he checks that box with gusto.

Also in this alternative reality, I see Point developing an off-the-puck game, of which he now has none. Another dynamic playmaker is Nathan MacKinnon, and while they are different in many ways—MacKinnon is more powerful than Point and has better hands—they overlap in their speediness. They are both burners.

I cannot remember a single time this season when Point ran a streak up the gut and created a rush opportunity for himself like MacKinnon does on this game-winner against Calgary.

If it happened, it was certainly a one-off and toward the beginning of the season, because Point without the puck is too deferential, mirroring his problem with the puck. Point is insufficient without the puck on the cycle too, and he should watch tape of MacKinnon and how MacKinnon manages to find quiet areas while offering support to his linemates.

McDavid and MacKinnon are both cognizant that the more they touch the puck, and the more aggressive they are with and without the puck, the better it is for their teams. This is the future I want for Point. I want him to see himself as the fulcrum of the offense for his line. If he plays with Nikita Kucherov, he might not be the center of gravity, but he doesn’t need to be subservient either. In this future reality, maturation comes with wisdom and Point adopts a more aggressive path.

Reality 2: The world-class two-way center
I think of this as the Patrice Bergeron-Anze Kopitar future, where Point scores 30+ goals each season, but makes his reputation as a 200-foot influencer. He takes on the role of a center pitted against opponents’ top scoring lines and relishes cleaning up the mess in the area below the circles. You can even picture Point expending a lot of energy aiding his defensemen on breakouts and Pierre McGuire gushing over it on the NBC Sports broadcast.

But while Point clearly cares about being a two-way center, there is still work to be done to get there. Point was merely adequate in terms of controlling possession for the Lightning this season. He ranked sixth among forwards in CF% at 5v5, and the two forwards he spent the most time with this season were Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. When Point was on the ice without Kucherov and played with only Johnson, his CF% dropped to below 50 percent. When he played without both Kucherov and Johnson, it dropped below 48. To be fair, when Kucherov and Johnson were without Point, their CF% was 48, while when the triumvirate was together it was nearly 54%. Nevertheless, if Point wants to fashion himself as a world-class, possession-driving center, this area needs to improve.

If he wants to tilt the ice, Point’s play in the congested areas is a good place to start. In the offensive zone, Bergeron and Kopitar have always exceled at fighting through defensemen who are exerting pressure and winning puck battles around the net. Boxing them out is a chore, especially at the height of each player’s powers. Point is the opposite. He allows himself to get shoved out of the play, and defensemen were able to consistently squeeze him out of position on the incoming shot. Point is smaller than both Kopitar and Bergeron, so he needs to be more active around the crease instead of staying idle and failing to make a play on a rebound or attempt a deflection.

If the defenseman is pinning him into an area where he becomes immobile—too often Point seemed wedged between the crease and the post—he needs to wriggle out of the defenseman’s grasp and try to find an area around the net where he cannot be cordoned off.

In this reality, Point also becomes a better forechecker. His lack of anticipation and stick positioning were problematic against Columbus. The Blue Jackets’ defenseman retrieving the puck was able to escape Point’s pressure as the F1 or, if he was the F2, the defenseman was able to successfully find his outlet. Better positioning and effort can fix that though.

I don’t have any major adjustments for Point in his own end. If he forechecks better and figures out spacing in his own zone, his possession metrics will improve because the Lightning will have more territorial advantage. More time on offense means more shot attempts for, and less against. The math is simple. In this reality, the Lightning extend Point and he accepts the Jonathan Toews role to Kucherov’s Patrick Kane.

Reality 3: The high-end No. 2 center
With any relationship that undergoes a transformation, it is interesting to identify when a different phase was reached. If Point “disappoints,” it will happen in a slow trickle. In this reality, Point posts a consistent 25-30 goals per season with 40ish assists. It is only when Point is about 25 or 26 and Steven Stamkos’s impact has waned, that it becomes obvious that Point has not achieved the staggering potential many have foreseen for him. The bond between Point and Stamkos endures because at some point Stamkos is going to decline, and Point will be expected to reduce the pain. In this reality, Point is very good, but there is a tinge of disappointment.

Maybe it is from watching the San Jose Sharks every other night, but I think Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski provide an interesting comparison to Point and Stamkos. Couture and Pavelski have less years separating them than the two Lightning players, but Couture has rarely been the best forward on his team, and often he was overshadowed by multiple skaters on the Sharks. Couture’s success and fit on the team seem inextricably linked with Pavelski, whose extended prime has surely alleviated pressure on Couture.

It is amusing to write this while Couture ranks second in the NHL playoffs in scoring and looks indispensable. Couture is justly being praised as a player who has been prolific come playoff time. But a 22-year-old Point was in the top ten for scoring for a large chunk of the season. He scored over 40 goals. He was a master of the universe. And then, like the rest of Tampa Bay, he was reduced to dust by the Blue Jackets. In the future, which of these three Points will emerge?
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