In professional sports, teams are often hoping that they'll find diamonds in the rough when they get to the late rounds of the draft. In the NFL, quarterback Tom Brady was selected by the New England Patriots in the 6th round, 199th overall in the 2000 NFL draft and is now considered one of the best quaterbacks to ever play the game. In baseball, you can point to a guy like Mike Piazza in the 62nd round, 1,390th overall in 1988 and is now considered one of the very best hitting catchers ever in MLB. In the NBA, well... they only have 2 rounds and small rosters so I don't think that really counts. In the NHL, where to start? How about the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist at 205th overall (2000) or the San Jose Sharks' Joe Pavelski also 205th overall (2003)? And those are just a couple recent examples.
The nature of scouting and developing players means that there are always players to be missed and don't get picked up until the late rounds. Sometimes it's because they're late bloomers, sometimes it's just the right development system at the right time for them that leads them to become stars. Not to mention the many players that go undrafted and later make their way towards stardom.
The Lightning's Ondrej Palat is certainly one of the most notable examples for the Lightning and the NHL in recent seasons. He was drafted 208th overall in the 7th round of the 2011 NHL draft as an overage prospect. He had already been passed over in two previous drafts and was look at the probability of settling in to a decent career playing in the Czech professional leagues. Instead, Steve Yzerman and company took a chance on him and sent him to the AHL to develop and adapt to the North American game. And that he did. In 232 regular season games at the NHL level, he has tallied 57 goals and 109 assists for 166 points as a strong two-way force on the front.
However, I think that Palat still has a long way to go to prove that he is the best late round selection the Lightning have ever made. Karri Ramo was a 6th round pick in 2004 that despite a rough road has become a decent NHL starting goalie. Paul Ranger had a 323 game career with 106 points as a 6th round pick in 2002. Certainly not a bad career for the defenseman. But then, there's Pavel Kubina, a 7th round pick 179th overall in 1996.
Kubina had a 970 game NHL career with 386 points (110 goals, 276 assists). In addition, he played in 51 playoff games and was a Stanley Cup champion with the Lightning in 2004. He played in Tampa for 8 years before moving on to Toronto for 3 seasons and Atlanta for another season before returning to the Lightning to play his final 2 seasons in Tampa. He was traded to Philadelphia at the 2012 NHL trade deadline. He played one final professional season in the Swiss league before retiring. Kubina was brought in as a part of the 2010-11 team that would make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, injuries kept him to only 8 games during the playoffs, yet Kubina served as a mentor and leader for a defensive corps that included a still young and learning Victor Hedman.
His 243 points in a Lightning sweater ranks him 2nd on the franchise list for defensemen scoring. His 72 goals put him in 1st on that list. In addition, he ranks 10th in points by all Lightning skaters in franchise history. He also ranks 3rd among all skaters for games played for the Lightning.
Ondrej Palat will almost certainly surpass Pavel Kubina's statistical accomplishments in the NHL but he still has a little ways to go to get there. Kubina was a very good defenseman for 14 seasons and provided a lot of value to the Lightning from a 7th round pick. Palat is doing the same and with some luck he'll get to the 1,000 games played milestone in his career and in 10 years we'll be looking back at Palat as the best late round draft pick ever for the Lightning.