Ondrej Palat is the kind of player who can do a bit of everything. Whether he’s playing top-line minutes and contributing offensively, or anchoring a third line tasked with shutting down the opposition, you can almost always count on the fact that he’ll be effective in the role for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Fairly or unfairly, though, there seemed to have been some perception over the last year or two that Palat was on the decline. People remember the 60-point “Triplet” from the mid-2010s, and were left disappointed by injury-impacted seasons since then. A deeper look at the underlying numbers suggests much of that concern was baseless, but it existed nevertheless. It doesn’t exist any longer.
Palat’s 2020 postseason run was a thing of pure beauty. He re-discovered the magic that had made him a fan favourite early in his career, and was a key driver of the line with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. All the little things he does so well allowed those two to flourish. He created time for them. He created space for them. He won puck battles. He was physical. Oh, and he tallied 11 goals of his own to finish third overall in league goalscoring.
While Kucherov and Point generated most of the headlines, it was Palat who was stirring the drink. Per Natural Stat Trick, he led the Lightning in five-on-five shot attempt share and expected goal share over the course of the playoffs. I’d go as far as to call him the league's best play-driver during the 2020 postseason. The fact that he was able to do all that without flashy theatrics just speaks to his quiet competence, something the Lightning relied on night in and night out.
It’s almost impossible to win the Stanley Cup without a lot of really good performance from a lot of really good players; there’s plenty of praise to go around. With that being said – for my money as someone who watched this team build from the ground up – Ondrej Palat’s postseason run was the most fun, rewarding, and memorable to watch. The 2011 7th round draft pick represents everything right about the way the Lightning went about building this group.