When the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted Ondrej Palat in the seventh-round, 208th overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, no one could have imagined the impact he would go on to have on the franchise. Seventh-round picks are often viewed as nothing more than filler, after all, as the odds of making an impact in the NHL after being selected this late are virtually zero.
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However, every now and again a perfect marriage of player and franchise occurs, and for Lightning, Palat was the right fit for their aspirations. He wasn’t the biggest forward available, nor was he the most skilled (although he did post 96 points with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League heading into his draft year), but he was always one of the hardest working skaters when he took the ice.
With his dogged work ethic, his play quickly translated to professional hockey, where he started playing for the Lightning’s then American Hockey League affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, in 2011-12. This was a truly special team, that went on to win 28-straight games heading into the postseason and eventually claimed the 2012 Calder Cup. Palat was a key contributor to this run both on and off the ice, and this play didn’t go unnoticed by the Lightning.
This led to his callup during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season for 14 games, after the Lightning had finished selling off starters at the trade deadline. The Lightning were terrible this season, but a glimpse of young players like Palat helped assure fans that the future was still incredibly bright.
Palat Continuously Overachieved at Every Step
Following this callup, Palat took the ice for the full 2013-14 season, playing in 81 games, scoring 23 goals and 59 points while finishing second in Calder Trophy voting as the top rookie in the NHL. His competition was stiff, as he only lost to the first-overall pick at the 2013 draft, Nathan MacKinnon, and edged out his friend and linemate, Tyler Johnson, who finished third.
With this exceptional start under his belt, Palat was now a known quantity in the NHL. He wasn’t a star, but the league was well aware that the Lightning had some exceptional young talent filling out their forward corps.
This continued into the 2014-15 season, when Palat, Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov teamed up to form the ‘Triplets’ line, which was one of the most dominant forward lines in hockey. These young guns ran up and down the ice with unabashed enthusiasm, scoring goals and points by the bucketful. They also were major contributors to the Lightning’s unexpected run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, which cemented their place as stars in the league.
Following all of this success, Palat had a few relatively rough years, where he dealt with injuries during the regular season and saw his point totals fall off a bit. However, where he didn’t miss a beat was in the postseason. In both 2016 and 2018, he was a top performer for the Lightning, scoring 10 and 12 points, respectively.
Finally, over his final three seasons with Tampa Bay, Palat cemented his legacy. He won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021, and put together his best NHL playoff performance ever in 2022, posting 11 goals and 21 points in 23 games played.
In all Palat finished his Bolts career with 138 postseason games played for the Lightning, posting 48 goals and 94 points. This places him second overall in franchise history for postseason goals scored and games played, and third overall for points. These are incredible numbers, especially from a seventh-round pick.
Palat Earned His Place in Lightning History
Whenever a player as remarkable as Palat departs the franchise that drafted them, there will always be a myriad of emotions felt. However, in this instance, it seems that the best one to feel is pride.
Fans in Tampa Bay shouldn’t be upset at Palat for taking the contract he rightfully earned, or sad for his departure. No, they should feel proud for getting to experience such an exceptional player for more than a decade, who left a legacy of success on the franchise that no one could have predicted. Sure, he may not have been a superstar, but he was a true star for the Lightning, and will always be one of the greatest success stories in Tampa Bay sports history.
So, while it will be gut-wrenching to see Palat wearing a different jersey come opening night, it doesn’t mean that fans still can’t wish the best for him as a person and player (except when he plays the Lightning). Without him, it’s impossible to know where the franchise would be right now, and we were all lucky to get to experience the excitement he brought to the ice at all levels of hockey for more than a decade.
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Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.