Lightning’s Ondrej Palat: Great Value From a Late-Round Pick

Ondrej Palat was born in Frýdek-Místek, Czechoslovakia, in 1991, a blue-collared city with a population of 56,000. Like most players in the NHL, he started playing hockey at a young age. At the age of 14, he began playing hockey competitively in his hometown for HC Frýdek-Místek of the Czech Hockey League. He played in the Czech Republic through his early years, up until 2009 when he moved to Quebec to play for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for two years.

The skill and motivation Palat showed while playing for the Voltigeurs, especially in his last season with the team, is likely what caught the eye of Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman in 2011. In his last season playing for the Voltigeurs, Palat scored 39 goals and had 57 assists, capping out at 96 points together. He was the fourth-leading scorer in the QMJHL, right behind Jonathan Huberdeau, who’d go on to be a Florida Panthers’ draft pick. Palat has had a great deal of success in professional hockey before officially making it to The Show.  

AHL Years

Palat has been a Bolt ever since Yzerman drafted him in the 7th round during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. His journey with the team started in Norfolk, Virginia, where he played for the Norfolk Admirals, the Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate at the time. At the age of 20, he was in the top 10 for points on the team, recording 9 goals and 21 assists for the Admirals in the 2011-12 season. The Admirals won the Calder Cup in his AHL rookie year, and he’d put up 9 points during the playoffs.

The next season, 2012-13, the Syracuse Crunch became the new AHL affiliate for Tampa. In the same season, Palat was third on the team in points, with 52, behind one of his Lightning linemates and Crunch MVP, Tyler Johnson, who had 62 points that season.

Palat’s first season when the team moved to Syracuse was another successful one for the start of his professional hockey career. The same season Syracuse became the new Lightning affiliate was the first year the team ever made it to the Calder Cup Final. Palat had the most points in the playoffs, with a total of 26 in 18 games played. His successful AHL playoff history is not the only time he has shown his best efforts in a Cup run.  

Palat’s Impact in the Playoffs

With Steven Stamkos out for all but one game in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, there was a switch-up in the line combinations. As a result, the top producing line of the playoffs for Tampa consisted of Nikita Kucherov, Palat, and Brayden Point (from ‘‘Ultimate compliment’: Lightning need Ondrej Palat on their top line,’ Tampa Bay Times, 09/13/2020).

The trio produced 55 points in the 25 games played, ending it all with a Stanley Cup. Palat put up 18 points (11 goals, 7 assists) during the playoffs, marking the best postseason appearance in his career.

Tampa Bay Lightning Brayden Point Ondrej Palat
Tampa Bay Lightning Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Palat’s talent at finding the back of the net after a set up by Kucherov or Point was largely the reason the line was successful. Of course, playing alongside two of Tampa’s star players makes it look easy, but Palat’s speed on the ice is one of the reasons he can be sneaky in finding space on the ice and burying the puck.  

Contracts With Tampa

As a restricted free agent in 2014, Palat signed his first major contract in the NHL. The forward agreed to a three-year bridge deal with an average annual value of $3 million and another opportunity to continue playing for the team that drafted him. With 59 points at the age of 22 in the 2013-14 season, and an increase in his ability to be a two-way player, it was a smart move for Yzerman to keep him around.

Following the bridge deal, Palat signed another deal with the only NHL team he has ever played for, agreeing to another five years, worth a total of $26.5 million, at an average annual value of $5.3 million. The deal includes three years of a no-trade clause and requires Palate to submit a 20-team trade list on July 1st, 2021.

With Tampa’s recent cap space issues, Palat’s deal has looked a bit pricey at times, but the 28-year-old has continued to show why the team took a chance on him in the first place. In order to make space for younger players, he may be one of the pieces moved next year after he submits his modified no-trade clause. Even if his time with Tampa comes to an end, the team has managed to get the value out of Palat that Yzerman knew was there.

The Triplets

With a newly signed deal and a fresh spot on the roster, Palat ended up on a line with Kucherov and Johnson, which ended up being one of the best lines in the NHL for the 2014-15 season. The same year, Palat had his career-high for points, a record he has only come close to reaching again. With 16 goals and 47 assists that season, it was obvious Palat could get the puck and find a way to get it on the tape of Kucherov or Johnson for what most of the time resulted in a goal.

Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrates with teammates, including defenseman Victor Hedman (77) and center Tyler Johnson (9) (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

This trio of young players itching to prove themselves in the NHL was named the Triplets due to their impressive chemistry together. The Triplets put up an impressive 67.61% goals for percentage in their first season together. Even if Palat is not putting up the same numbers he did in his first few seasons with the Triplets, he continues to prove his value to the team by staying consistent and working hard to improve any kinks in his gameplay.