Brayden Point: Consistently Flying Under - and Over - the Radar, at the Same Time
A detailed look at one of the most unique hockey players the NHL has ever seen
If you ask a hockey fan interested in statistics about Brayden Point, they often won’t know where to start. Would you be able to blame them? We haven’t really seen a player like Point before. He was drafted in the third round in 2014 and has skyrocketed into a superstar (sort of - I’ll get to that in a bit) very quickly, grading out very well in just about every macro-level statistic that exists in the hockey world today. It’s easy to see why Point gets overlooked by a considerably large sector of hockey fans: Despite the high point totals (for the sake of using the word “point”, did he really have to pick hockey?), many will tell you he isn’t a top-3 forward on his team. When your teammates include Steven Stamkos, who scored 60 goals in his age-21 season, as well as Nikita Kucherov, who is the best winger in hockey and it isn’t quite close, and Anthony Cirelli, whose defensive prowess at such a young age has gained the attention of fans league-wide, it’s not hard to be easily forgotten.
Many “analytics people” will tell you to remember Point’s name. To some, he’s a top-10 center in the league, and to others, maybe even top-5 (yes, I know he’s played wing before). However, different groups of people in the exact same field will warn you not to buy into false narratives about him, and to be careful not to overrate him. I fit somewhere in between the two viewpoints in question, because the fact is that some statistics, especially the ones we consider to be advanced in 2020, can skew our opinions on hockey players, and nobody exemplifies that better than Brayden Point.
The big reason that Point has caught everyone’s attention is because he looks like an ultra-rare talent when we look at GAR, or Goals Above Replacement. The ever-controversial statistic popularized by Evolving-Hockey tries to measure a player’s value through an array of categories, and only 3 forwards had a higher GAR total than Point in 2019-20. Since 2017-18, Point’s GAR total of 60.8 trails only Connor McDavid among forwards. If you choose to take this literally, Point is responsible for ~61 goals (including defensive and penalty “goals”), and the Lightning would have been cost ~11 wins if not for him in that time span. Again, by this metric, only Connor McDavid has been a more irreplaceable forward in the last 3 seasons. How is this possible?
Since GAR is a stat that takes into account most facets of the game, many people are led to believe that Point is an excellent two-way player. However, this isn’t actually true. Point’s ridiculous 60.8 3-season GAR figure is mostly made up of his insane offensive ability, at both even-strength and on the powerplay. If we break GAR down by category, Point ranks 10th among forwards since 2017-18 in the category of even-strength offense, and 4th in powerplay offense. As well, he also ranks 10th in penalty goals, meaning he doesn’t take many penalties and draws a lot. Having a good penalty ratio is an important part of hockey that can sometimes get overlooked, but it isn’t close to being as crucial of a portion of the sport as good defensive play is.
So, if Brayden Point isn’t a good two-way player, then what is he? Let’s use my NHL player cards to find out.
For someone with such a high market value (3rd in the NHL), Point doesn’t look as amazing as one might think statistically (the reason for this is that my market value is based entirely off of GAR and xGAR, and we know the story with Point in that department). The most impressive part of his 2019-20 season was his ability to generate offensive results, and we can clearly see where that came from. He’s a beast in the neutral zone, and for a Bolts team with a ton of firepower, setting up offensive chances is of importance, and Point does it well. What may be puzzling to you about this is that despite his insanely high output, Point looks to be more in “very good” territory as opposed to superstar territory in terms of shot generation. The discrepancy between expectation and reality would normally lead one to believe that Point has benefitted from luck this season on the offensive front, and that he’s due for quite the regression next year. I don’t believe this to be entirely true, because he’s been outperforming his shot rates his whole career.
Point’s quality-over-quantity approach offensively was a lot more apparent in 2018-19, and as such, he saw great results despite his low Corsi rates. Perhaps the biggest difference between Point’s 2018-19 season and his 2019-20 season is his powerplay performance, as he was unstoppable on the man-advantage last season, when that wasn’t the case this season.
Point’s 2019-20 was an anomaly by almost anyone’s standards. He outperformed expectations by quite a bit offensively, and while he didn’t do this to the same degree the year before, a lot more comes clear regarding the narrative about him when we look at his 2017-18 season.
One of the biggest flaws of what are considered hockey’s mainstream views is how defense is analyzed. The problem I have with how the majority of the hockey world sees defense isn’t that they don’t know who the best defensive players in the league are, but that they continue to say Player A is good at defense long after his defensive ability has plummeted. Brayden Point is a player that has caused even analytics people to fall into that trap. In fact, the argument could be made that he was better defensively than he was offensively in 2017-18, as he seemed to have perfectly nailed down the art of quality shot suppression…at even strength only, that is.
This was the only great defensive season of Point’s career, to date. Offensively, he has significantly outperformed his xGF in 2 of the 3 seasons in the aforementioned timespan, and he outperformed his CF in all 3 of said seasons. How can a player who hasn’t been good defensively for the majority of his career consistently put up sky-high GAR totals? The answer to that in almost all cases is that he was on another planet offensively, but how could that be the case when he’s never been an elite player in terms of shot generation either? How does one player not named Alex Ovechkin or David Pastrnak get by on results for so long?
At this point, I was curious as to what my GAR model would say about Point. If some people are overrating him because of what Evolving-Hockey’s model says, then would mine be better at highlighting the fact that Point may not be the offensive superstar that some are led to believe he is?
To make a long story short: Nope.
Despite his shortcomings in other areas, Point still gets by on offense alone to rank inside the top 15 in hbGAR among forwards in 2019-20. My model is heavily based on the exact same isolates that depict Point as nothing special, and it still produces these figures. Point is a good finisher, but not an elite one. He’s not a sniper, and doesn’t score goals at will. Where do the results come from?
What Might Become of This
There’s one player that profiled very similarly to Point offensively in 2019-20. His name? Artemi Panarin.
A Hart Trophy finalist in my book, Panarin went on an offensive rampage in 2019-20. Will he repeat this performance next year though? I’m leaning towards no. Panarin actually didn’t get the results to match his high xGF during his time in Columbus, so to have his quality shot rate drop but have all the pucks suddenly go in at the same time seems a little suspect to me. Point was the only NHLer who fit this profile in 2019-20: Not exactly a sniper, but the pucks went in. A lot.
With Point, though, it’s different at the same time. He’s outperformed his shot rates to a gradually increasing extent his whole career. Given the way he’s trending, is it possible he could see Panarin-level results every season he plays? I think it is. This is the field where he provided all of his offensive value in 2019-20, but unlike many players who peak offensively after a simple PDO bender, this type of season - and maybe this type of career - may have been in the works for a long time for Point.
I suppose the point of this article is to use Brayden Point as a teaching point (again, I swear I’m not meaning to do that). He’s why you should always make yourself aware of where a player provides his value before claiming that he’s a top-5 center in the league based on GAR only. Brayden Point is not a good two-way player. He doesn’t play on the penalty kill much, and when he did, he wasn’t good at it. I’d even go so far as to say that he would be a lot less effective if not for one area of the game that he excels in so much that it makes up for all of his not-as-special talents: Getting offensive results. He’s not a franchise cornerstone player, but he is a rare talent in that he profiles statistically as an elite sniper despite being nothing of the sort, and we should appreciate Brayden Point for being the type of hockey player he is and the fact that he’s in his prime, because we may not see another NHLer like this for a long time.