There were only three players selected in the 2011 NHL draft after the Tampa Bay Lightning selected forward, Ondrej Palat with the 208th pick. That’s two draft picks away from the unceremonial Mr. Irrelevant, the last pick in the draft. This inglorious start has not deterred Palat in the least. In fact, being passed over 207 times not only by the Lightning but by the other 29 teams seems to be the fire that ignites Palat’s game.
In his rookie season with the Lightning two years after being drafted, he was one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy for the NHL’s rookie of the year. Scoring 23 goals along with 36 assists earned Palat the Calder recognition. His teammate and line mate, Tyler Johnson was also one of the Calder finalists that year when Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche won the award.
Last season, despite notching seven less goals, Palat increased his assist total by nine and total points by four while playing on Tampa’s young Triplet’s line with Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. Through his first two seasons in the NHL, Palat tallied 39 goals and 83 assists for a total of 124 points.
For the Defense
It isn’t just offense where Palat contributes to the Lightning. In the two seasons before the current one, Palat blocked 114 shots. That leads the team among all forwards in that time. On a team with such skilled shot blocking forwards such as Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle, Palat’s totals are impressive.
He’s not a physically intimidating figure, at 5’11” and 175 pounds, but opposing players have learned to keep their heads up when Palat is on the ice. In the previous two seasons, Palat has compiled 270 hits, many of which were bone rattlers. He is exactly the type of complete player that coach Jon Cooper loves.
At 24 years old, Palat has earned a tremendous level of respect, not only from his coach but from his teammates as well. Along with Ryan Callahan, Palat is one of the team’s alternate captains. On a team loaded with talent, Palat sets himself apart with both his offensive and defensive play.
Early during the current season Palat was injured in a game against the Minnesota Wild. The dreaded lower body injury (leg) kept Palat out of the lineup for 20 of the team’s first 38 games and the team struggled. During these games the Lightning were 18-16-4 playing most of these matches without Palat.
Since his return on January 2nd, the Lightning have won 17 of their 22 games. Now, Palat alone isn’t the reason for this turnaround as Ben Bishop has provided stellar play in the net. Captain Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have led the team in goals but the return of Palat from his injury has been integral in the recent resurgence of the Lightning.
Having seen every game Palat has played in the NHL, there is one player that I find him comparable to and that is Marian Hossa. Chicago’s Hossa is as good a two-way player as there has been in the league over the last decade. Like Hossa, Palat has the offensive skills to not only put the puck in the net but also dish the types of passes to his line mates to be among the team’s assists leaders.
In the neutral and defensive zone is where Hossa and Palat excel. Both can finish their checks against opposing players with the puck. Their defensive play leads to turnovers which then leads to puck possession and breakouts on the offensive end.
If any of the younger players on the Lightning roster want to know what leads to ice time from Cooper, watch Palat. Keep your eye on the Czech forward who never gives up on a play, who lays out a hit when necessary and continually puts himself and his teammates in position for scoring chances. He plays the entire 200 foot game.
Perhaps it is the fact that he was passed over 207 times before he was drafted that propels Palat. Maybe that particular chip is glued to his shoulder. Of the seven forwards taken in the first 10 picks of the 2011 draft, Palat has outscored four of them: Jonathan Huberdeau; Mika Zibanejad; Ryan Strome; and Mark Scheifle.
Having just played his 200th NHL game, Palat is at the beginning of his pro career. His overall game is good but with more time it will assuredly get better. His star is on the rise and as long as he remains healthy, both his future and the future of his team looks outstanding.