Building off a breakthrough: Brayden Point

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This one is tough.

There are solid cases to be made for Yanni Gourde and Mikhail Sergachev, but Point — at least in this scribe’s eyes — edges out the two rookies because of his fantastic playoff performance.

But not only that.

Point went from and 18-goal scorer in his rookie season to eclipse the 30-goal mark in his sophomore campaign with 32, and bumped his point total from 40 in 68 games to 66 in 82. He tied Nathan MacKinnon for the most game-winning goals with 12, showing not only can he score, but he can find the best time to do so.

In the playoffs, Point subsequentlyy showed he could produce under the pressures of the most meaningful games of his career, amassing 16 points in 17 games while being, arguably, Tampa’s best player in the Boston series Tampa won and the Washington series they lost.

There’s a legitimate chance that the former Western Hockey League standout becomes a point-per-game player this season, which is scary for opposing teams given how stacked the Lightning already are offensively.

“You want players from other teams to think, ‘This isn’t going to be an easy night for us,'” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said during the playoffs. “[Point] does that, regardless of who he’s playing against. If it doesn’t work out for him early, you know he’ll find a way to make sure it does.”

And Point is doing all of this as he sort of defies the odds.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Steve Yzerman | Three questions]

A third-round pick isn’t supposed to be this good yet, never mind a team’s No. 2 center. He’s only ever played nine games in the American Hockey League — he had four points in that stint three years ago — and has seemingly made the transition from junior elite to NHL star with ease.

He may not have not been afforded the chance, at least in such a high capacity, if not for Steven Stamkos‘ freak injury in 2016-17, but Point showed he wasn’t just up to the task, he was well-prepared for it.

Point’s shot share numbers were 52.02 this season, down slightly from the 52.73 he posted in his rookie year, but consider that he played 14 more games with minimal falloff. His goals-for percentage jumped from 54.79 percent to 59.43 percent and his five-on-five shooting percentage boosted from 8.79 percent to 10.02 percent.

Point enters a contract year this year, with his three-year entry-level deal set to expire at seasons’ end. Given how well he’s handled everything that’s been thrown his way in his brief NHL career, it’s likely Point’s best is still yet to come, handing general manager Steve Yzerman yet another big contract to try and fit under the salary cap.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.