Ondrej Palat is the best ever seventh-round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning. At one time, that honor went to Palat’s fellow countryman Pavel Kubina. While they never played together, they did spend one training camp together in Tampa before the 2011-12 season after Palat was drafted. Kubina was a 7th round pick of the Lightning in 1996, 179th overall and finished his NHL career with 386 points in 970 games from the blue line.
But with Palat now getting to the 400 point level, I feel it’s pretty safe to say that Palat has overtaken Kubina and will continue to solidify that status as he continues his career further into his 30s. Palat has played in 586 games in the NHL with 137 goals and 401 points for 0.68 points per game. He’s added a further 37 goals and 73 points in 115 career playoff games. Let’s take a look back on Palat’s history and some of his highlights from his career.
How It Started
Palat was first eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in 2009. Prior to the 2008-09 season, he was drafted in the second round, 66th overall in the CHL Import Draft by the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, but chose to remain in the Czechia U20 league posting 23 goals and 56 points in 42 games.
He represented Czechia at the U18 tournament and recorded one goal in six games. He also played for the U18 team during 2007-08 helped Czechia to earn a promotion back to the top level after being relegated to Division 1 in 2006-07. He played on that team with future Lightning teammates Radko Gudas and Jan Rutta.
While the Czechia U20 is a solid league, it’s not as highly regarded as the Swedish U20 and some of the other U20 leagues in Europe. He also did not get called up into the Czechia men’s league. After going undrafted, Palat decided to come to North America in hopes of getting noticed by playing in the CHL. This time around in the CHL Import Draft, he went 10th overall in the 1st round to the defending champion Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL.
With Drummondville, Palat found himself surrounded by some strong talent including future NHLers Sean Couturier, Gabriel Dumont, and Jake Allen. Palat finished the season with 17 goals and 40 points in 59 games, finishing 8th on the team in scoring. Once again, he did not get selected in the draft and returned to the QMJHL for another season.
The 2010-11 season saw Palat move up the line-up and take the wing along side Sean Couturier with both recording 96 points on the season to tie for the team lead in scoring. Palat recorded 39 goals and 57 assists in 61 games and added 4 goals and 11 points in 10 playoff games.
Going into the draft, not many scouts believed in Palat. He was viewed as being a player that had greatly benefited from playing along side talented players that raised his game higher than he could on his own. If Palat didn’t get drafted, this was likely his last chance and would mean a return to Europe to continue his career.
The draft wound it’s way down into the second day and the seventh round without Palat’s name being called. For the Lightning, Steve Yzerman had called on the names of Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov, Adam Wilcox, and Matthew Peca (all players who have played at least one game in the NHL) to join the Lightning organization. The Lightning had even traded Marc-Antoine Pouliot for the seventh round pick used to select Peca.
Time was running out, with the Lightning still left to pick one last time in the draft, 207th overall, the fourth from the last pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. As the story goes, the Drummondville staff approached the Lightning staff and pitched Palat to them as a player to take a flyer on. Seventh round picks are often lottery tickets. For a player to drop to this portion of the draft, there are usually some major flaws or doubts about their game that make it very unlikely they will develop into NHLers. Even more of an issue for Palat was that this was already his third draft and he’d go straight into the professional ranks instead of continuing to develop for two more years before going pro.
The Drummondville staff was persuasive though and the Lightning took Palat with the 207th overall pick, in the seventh round, of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. And it will go down as one of the best draft picks that Steve Yzerman made during his tenure with the Lightning.
While Steve Yzerman, Al Murray, and their front office staff get a lot of credit for finding and drafting much of the talent that the Lightning have acquired over the last decade plus, a lot of credit has to go to Jon Cooper, Rob Zettler, and Benoit Groulx for their work on developing talent at the AHL level.
Palat joined the Norfolk Admirals, and head coach Jon Cooper, in the 2011-12 season. Palat recorded nine goals and 30 points over 61 games and added a further four goals and nine points in 18 playoff games. In the process, the Norfolk Admirals set a North American professional hockey record by winning 28 straight games. They also lifted the Calder Cup as champions of the AHL.
Admittedly, it was a stacked team with 28 out of 40 players appearing during the season that have played at least one game in the NHL. Eight of those players didn’t make their NHL debut until after the season with five of that group having played over 500 games in the NHL. Palat wasn’t a top liner for the Admirals, and finished 10th on the team in scoring and 8th among forwards.
For the 2012-13 season, Cooper, Palat, and the other Lightning prospects moved to the Syracuse Crunch as the Lightning changed their AHL affiliation. Palat moved up the line-up and broke out with 13 goals and 52 points in 56 games to finish third on the team in scoring. He added another seven goals and 26 points, the most points in the playoffs for the Crunch that season, as the Crunch made it to the Calder Cup finals, but lost.
His first call-up also came during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, appearing in 14 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning with two goals and four points. He finished out the season with the Crunch, and that was the last time he played in the AHL.
Becoming The 400 Point Palat
Palat began the 2013-14 season on the third line next to Tyler Johnson and Richard Panik, both players he had played with in the AHL as they came up together. Just 17 games into the season, Steven Stamkos broke his leg and that gave an opportunity to the young players. Panik had struggled, but Johnson and Palat were taking off and eventually found themselves playing along side Martin St. Louis on the Lightning’s top line with Palat recording 23 goals and 59 points over 81 games and another three points in three playoff games as the Lightning made a bit of a surprise run to make the playoffs on the back of Ben Bishop and their young prospects maturing into NHLers.
Palat came up second in the Calder Trophy voting behind Nathan MacKinnon and ahead of Tyler Johnson. He also made the All-Rookie team at the end of the season. His two-way play also saw him receive Selke votes and finished 11th in the voting, even though he is a winger and it’s typically impossible for a winger to win the Selke. This is the only time in his career that Palat has been in the top three for an end of season award.
The 2014-15 version of the Lightning saw Palat teamed up with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov to create the Triplets line after injuries caused a reshuffling of the lines. Their line was one of the most dominating 5v5 lines the NHL has seen over the past decade. They controlled the puck. They scored. They won games. They helped lead the Lightning into the playoffs and to the Stanley Cup Finals where they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks. Palat set a career high in assists with 47 and points with 63.
Since then, Palat has had some injury troubles from time to time that have limited him. He hasn’t played in more than 75 games since the 2016-17 season and has only played in over 80 games once, in 2013-14. Despite that, Palat has kept up his production, as well as his reputation for strong two-way play.
Palat may not be as flashy offensively as a Nikita Kucherov or Brayden Point or Steven Stamkos. But as Jon Cooper has said numerous times, there’s a reason players want to play with Palat. He’s a very smart player. He knows where to be. He has an incredible work ethic. He plays hard. He’s the perfect complementary winger with enough skill and hockey IQ to enhance the skills of the high end offensive players he plays with. And he’s gotten to play alongside some of the best in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov. Martin St. Louis. Steven Stamkos. Brayden Point. Victor Hedman.
And that play has been rewarded with not one, but two Stanley Cup rings.
- He is just the 7th player to reach 400 points with the Lightning, joining Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, and Brad Richards.
- He is the 16th player ever in the NHL to reach 400 points after being drafted in the seventh round, and only the third left winger after Andrew Brunette and Valeri Kamenski.
- He is the 29th Czechia player to reach 400 points in NHL history, passing Petr Svoboda’s 399 points with his three points in last night’s game.
Palat is a wonderful player. He has gotten here through hard work and determination. It looked like he wouldn’t get drafted and who knows where his career would be now if the Lightning hadn’t selected him. Maybe he’d be a star in one of the European leagues. Maybe he’d be a middling player there. Maybe he would have gotten an NHL chance after proving himself overseas for a few years. Who knows.
What I do know, is that I’m incredibly glad that the Drummondville staff went to bat for him and that the Lightning front office took a chance on him. He’s been an incredible player to watch over the years. His time may be coming to an end soon with the Lightning as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Lightning may not have the cap space to afford bringing him back.
His #18 is unlikely to be lifted to the rafters, but Palat will go down as one of the greatest players in Lightning history. And I appreciate him.