Mar 1, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) skates against the Dallas Stars during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Lightning defeated the Stars 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Ondrej Palat Can Play in this League

I recently read a scouting report written about Ondrej Palat back in 2009. It said, among other things, that the Czech born Palat “at minimum, should be able to score fairly consistently at the minor league level or back in Europe. Whether he can…..compete in the NHL level is uncertain”.  Ondrej Palat can play at the NHL level.

In his rookie season last year, Ondrej Palat accomplished a whole lot. Co-finalist for Calder Trophy for NHL Rookie of the Year. He scored 23 goals and 36 assists for 59 total points. That was three points shy of the Tampa Bay Lightning rookie record set by Conn Smythe Trophy winning Brad Richards in 2001.

Ondrej Palat was also selected to the NHL 2013-2014 All-Rookie team, along with fellow Bolt, Tyler Johnson. He led all NHL rookies last year with a plus/minus of +32. It is fair to say that the uncertainty is gone, because Ondrej Palat can play in this league.

It isn’t exactly a news flash to talk about the impressive seasons enjoyed by Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson last year. A small nuance that should be pointed out is that especially for Palat, the opportunity to show what he is capable of against the best hockey players in the world, came from another player’s mishap.

In November, in Boston, Steven Stamkos broke his leg. Tampa’s best player was gone for more than half the season. Palat and Johnson, who were thrilled to make the team out of training camp, started the season on the third line. Bottom six, they call it in the NHL. Not exactly front liners. But these two rooks were happy, they were playing in the NHL.

With Stamkos out indefinitely, Coach Jon Cooper, who coached Palat and Johnson in Norfolk, where they won the AHL’s Calder Cup, tweaked his lines until he had these two kids playing with Marty St. Louis. It was St. Louis who brought these rookies along, letting them know they belonged.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Palat recalled what Marty told him about his game. “Don’t be afraid to make the plays” Marty told Palat. Gaining confidence by the day, Ondrej Palat did just that. He began to make plays. His play was so good that he won NHL Rookie of the Month honors in January and March.

Ondrej Palat had 14 multi-point games last season. After January 1st, Ondrej Palat led all rookies in the league scorring 44 of his 59 points. For the record, Stamkos isn’t Wally Pipp in this story. His leg healed and he was back on the first line, with the “C” on his chest. However, during his absence, Ondrej Palat showed what he is capable of at this level.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about Tyler Johnson and how a lot of people talk about the Sophomore Slump. I’m sure those same cynics will say the same thing about Palat. At the risk of being called a homer, I’m going out on that same limb I went out on for Johnson with Palat.

I don’t think we have yet seen the very best Ondrej Palat has to offer. I feel he is capable of being among the scoring leaders in the NHL. One of the things I read in his early scouting reports is a line that said: He has a nose for the net. I see that in him.

I remember one particular play against Pittsburgh last March 22nd. Palat took a pass behind the Lightning blue line from fellow Czech, Radko Gudas. Now, mind you, Palat isn’t going to set any speed records by any stretch. But he does have some quick steps. I have heard that many times in describing many different athletes. “He’s not fast, but he’s quick”. Never really understood that, until I saw this goal.

In the blink of an eye, Palat was at the Penguins blue line with four of the five Penguins attempting to defend him. Palat is a steamroller and the Pens set to defend are on their heels. He dangled, he toe-dragged the puck and moved past the last two defenders. He centered himself and flipped it past the goalie with 1:22 left in the game to tie it and send it to overtime. This play earned the Lightning a point. In full disclosure, the Bolts went on to lose the game but Palat’s goal was a big time play by a rookie.

Time will tell how Ondrej Palat will do in the NHL. For my money, the kid has the goods. He showed it when his team lost their best player. He stepped up. When they traded their center, he did things that rookies had no business doing. He kept making plays. He kept scoring goals and he kept helping the Lightning win games. One thing for sure, Ondej Palat can flat out play in the NHL.

Tags: NHL Ondrej Palat Tampa Bay Lightning Tyler Johnson

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