Lightning eager to see if Point can handle ‘rigors’ of playing center

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The Tampa Bay Lightning could have some tough decisions to make soon.

And this time, we’re not talking about Ben Bishop.

We’re talking now about the center position. The Bolts have already committed to keeping Steven Stamkos. But Tyler Johnson is a pending restricted free agent, and veteran Valtteri Filppula can become unrestricted in the summer of 2018.

No wonder the head coach is eager to see how rookie Brayden Point can handle the middle. The 20-year-old started the season on the wing, but then Stamkos got hurt.

“Now we’re checking him out at center to see, can he handle some of the rigors of playing center in this league? So far, so good,” said Jon Cooper. “He’s been able to adapt to every situation. Does he make the odd mistake here and there? He does. But he does it trying his a** off. And you like to see that in guys. … To see him at center a little bit more is something we want to see.”

Point is a natural center. A third-round draft pick in 2014, he captained Team Canada at last year’s World Juniors in Finland. In 29 games this season, he has two goals and nine assists.

The Lightning kick off a three-game road trip tomorrow in Calgary, where Point is expected to center the third line between Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov. Johnson is likely to center Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov on the top line, with Filppula between Brian Boyle and Jonathan Drouin on the second line.

A popular preseason Stanley Cup pick, the Lightning (14-13-2) really need to start stringing some wins together. If the playoffs started today, they’d miss them by four points.

Tampa Bay also plays Friday in Vancouver and Saturday in Edmonton.

Related: These are tough times for the Lightning, from Yzerman right on down

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