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Elliott: For a 208th draft pick, Ondrej Palat is becoming quite the Stanley Cup hero

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Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Ondrej Palat (18) celebrates a goal against the Colorado Avalanche.
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ondrej Palat celebrates a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals in the third period. Palat was the driving force behind the Lightning’s quest to win a third title in a row. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

Lightning trainer John Cooper clearly remembers the first time he saw the winger Ondrej Palat.

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Cooper was coaching the Tampa Bay affiliate of the American Hockey League in Norfolk, Va., when he had to decide what to do with the soft-spoken Czech guy who had been passed over in the first year of the draft and was drafted by the Lightning in the seventh round. (208th) in 2011.

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At this point in the draft, teams are looking for warm bodies and don’t expect much. Palat was different. He immediately stood out. Cooper was intrigued.

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“We thought: “There is something in this child. Let’s keep him, not send him back to junior high. We’re going to play him, but let’s take him into our own hands and see what we can do,” Cooper recalled.

Cooper cut him off the roster from time to time. Chambers will never stop reminding him of this now, but Cooper doesn’t mind. “When we took him, what you see today is what we saw in him,” Cooper said.

The hockey world sees a scorer, a versatile and intelligent player who takes his game to the next level when the stakes are high. He was overlooked in the draft year, and in the previous two Stanley Cup draws, the Lightning eclipsed him. Nikita Kucherov as well as Briden Pointbut Palat was a star among the stars in the playoffs.

After scoring the 12th playoff game-winning goal of his career, a one-knee shot between the face-off rounds that beat Colorado goalkeeper Darcy Kemper with 6:22 left in the third period on Friday at the Ball Arena, he allowed the Lightning extend the Cup final to a sixth game. Instead of returning home for the summer, they return to the Amalia Arena, with a chance to continue their performance on Sunday. striving for a third cup title in a row. If they win at home and lead 8-2 in the playoffs, the Cup winner will be decided on Tuesday in Denver.

In a series filled with high-profile players who were drafted as #1 or were considered prospects before they became superstars, it’s nice to see the 208th pick come off as a big deal.

“This time in the playoffs, he scores a lot of goals. It’s pretty remarkable,” he said. Stephen Stamkos, which centers the Lightning’s top lane behind Palat and Nikita Kucherov. “We always joke with Pally that he just finds a way. Sneaky P found a way to put one in.”

His exploits can no longer be considered vile. Palat scored 11 goals in the 2020 Lightning Cup, three of which were wins. In their 2021 replay, he only scored five goals, but two of them were game-winners. After scoring 18 goals and 49 points in 77 regular season games in 2021-22, he scored 11 goals – three of them wins – in 22 playoff games.

“He keeps doing it. He is a gamer. He finds a way every night.” – Lightning 4th winger Pat Maroon said. “He plays right, he plays hard, he gets into dirty places and gets rewarded. When you do, you will be rewarded as you work hard for 200 feet and every inch of the game. He is a player.” There is no greater compliment than this.

Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Ondrej Palat celebrating a goal against the Colorado Avalanche.
Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Ondrej Palat celebrates his victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Friday. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Palat never sought to prove that the teams that ignored him were wrong. “When I was drafted and I first got into the NHL, I was just trying to work hard,” he said. “Play the same game every game and stay in the NHL, and yes, as long as it works.”

He declined praise for Friday’s game-winner, saying the defender Victor Hedman deserves credit for finding him when he was trying to open up. “It was an easy shot for me,” Palat said. “I just try once and I’m lucky it happened.”

It takes luck, talent and perseverance to reach this point. Both teams struggled with injuries; Point appeared in and out of the lineup on Friday, while the Colorado winger Andre Burakovskywho scored the overtime winning goal in Game 1, missed three games in a row after being hit in the arm during game 2. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said before the team traveled to Tampa on Saturday that Burakovsky could play in Game 6.

Bednar said he thought his team played well on Friday but gave up too much defensively and converted a few unnecessary penalties. This included a penalty for too many men on the ice, which they took with 2:43 left in the third period, preventing them from making a late rush. “But everyone around, pretty good hockey game from our group, gave ourselves a chance to win, didn’t, now we have to hit the road and win the big game,” Bednar said.

The Avalanche didn’t play with the urgency or poignancy that the Lightning did on Friday. Another unfinished performance by Colorado will most likely lead to a seventh game that is always unpredictable. “Of course Tampa brought it,” Bednar said Friday. “We see both teams picking up momentum as the streak goes on and there’s a lot of hockey ahead.”

The Lightning can thank Sneaky P for giving them the opportunity to play again on Sunday and maybe later. Here are the seventh round picks that become first-class players.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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