ST. LOUIS — Before every game, Lightning prospect Ondrej Palat weighs his sticks, not on a scale but by feel, with his hands.
It is a method he has used since playing for AHL Norfolk in 2011-12.
"Every stick is a little bit different, so I'm trying to find out which one is better," the left wing said. "I try to feel how light it is, how to tape it, small things. If it feels good, you know right away."
Hey, whatever works.
Chances are you haven't heard much about Ondrej Palat (pronounced AHN-dray pa-LOT). As the 208th overall draft pick of 2011, his arrival didn't get a lot of fanfare. He is generally quiet — "He speaks when spoken to," teammate Eric Neilson said — and thinks defense first.
But Palat, 22, is pushing as hard as anyone for a roster spot, and don't be surprised if he succeeds in getting one.
"He's just silently gone about his business," coach Jon Cooper said before the Lightning's 4-3 victory over the Blues on Friday night at the Scottrade Center. "The one thing I love about Palat is that he doesn't cheat the game, ever. He plays the game the right way. You can't have enough guys like him."
He also has a terrific nickname: Chuck Norris, after the martial arts television star.
"Because he really does everything," said center Tyler Johnson, who played with Palat in 2011-12 at Norfolk and last season at AHL Syracuse.
"You can count on him for anything. He's unbelievable."
A better description for Palat, 6 feet, 190 pounds, is versatile.
"You can put him on first line, fourth line, power play, penalty kill," Cooper said. "Maybe one day we'll throw some goalie pads on him and see if he can do it."
Cooper had a closeup view of Palat the past two seasons, having coached him at Norfolk and Syracuse. At both stops, Palat was part of a terrific line with Johnson and Richard Panik, both in the mix as well for spots with the Lightning.
They were such a dynamic combination — "We have the same mentality," Johnson said. "We like to be creative, but at the same time, we're all pretty good defensively," — Cooper has played them together during training camp.
Palat had 13 goals and 52 points and was plus-26 in 56 games last season for Syracuse. In a 14-game callup to the Lightning, he had two goals and four points and was plus-5 with an average 11:44 of ice time. His father, mother and sister kept avid track back home in the Czech Republic.
Friday against St. Louis, Palat had a goal, five shots and 20:04 of ice time. In Thursday's 5-1 victory over the Predators in Tampa, he had a goal (on a rush from the blue line with a deke), three shots, a hit, a takeaway and a blocked shot. He also backchecked hard enough to not only disrupt Viktor Stalberg's breakaway but separate him from the puck.
"Those plays go unheralded," Cooper said. "You've got to reward that kind of effort."
For Palat, the reward would be an NHL roster spot.
"I know I'm not here as a big star," he said. "As you said, I'm a little bit under the radar. It's my motivation. I just have to play my game with confidence."
With sticks that feel just right.