He was never supposed to be essential. He was never supposed to be special.
And yet, Ondrej Palat skates on, sweating, grinding, squeezing two minutes worth of production out of 45 seconds worth of ice time. He never slacks off, never lets up, never seems to make a mistake.
He is the most unappreciated Triplet of them all. He is the last star you recognize.
And yet, on this Tampa Bay Lightning team, he is essential.
If you wish, you can write sonnets about Tyler Johnson, about the speed, about the sizzle. And you can praise Nikita Kucherov endlessly, about the burst, about the brilliance. Both are terrific players.
Palat? He’s the one you notice last.
Perhaps, just perhaps, he is the one you appreciate the most.
There isn’t a lot of wiggle to Palat. He grinds it on both ends of the ice. He goes into the traffic. And he makes everyone around him a little better. Ask in the locker room. In the Lightning locker room, they know.
“I would say of all the players that I’ve watched develop, he’s the one you had to worry about the least,” said coach Jon Cooper. “It’s just that his whole game is played properly. Put a camera on him. You can make an instructional video on how to play the game by following Palat. Not always flashy. Not going to show up on the score sheet near as often as the other guys will. Those other guys will tell you they want him on their line.
“Have there been ups and downs for him? Sure. You have to figure out this league. There’s a lot more to it than just playing the game. Guys study who they’re on the ice against. What are players’ tendencies, how much time and space do you have? Is there a growing process for him? For sure. But he gets it a lot quicker than a lot of the other guys.”
So far in these playoffs, Palat has eight goals and eight assists. He might also be among the sweat leaders of the forwards.
It is, Palat says, big boy hockey.
“We joke about that a little bit,” he said. “The NHL, it’s big-boy hockey now. Everyone’s out there competing so hard. They’re bigger, stronger, faster. Their jobs are on the line. The second you get to this league, someone else is coming up right behind you to take your spot. With some of these players they’re going up against, if that’s the the term ‘big boy,’ you can use it two different ways. But if you want to stay in the league, you’ve got to be a man. That’s kind of what it means. Palat’s taken that to heart.”