TAMPA — Joel Vermin's NHL debut Thursday night was seamless, Lightning coaches saying the 2013 seventh-round draft pick looked like he had already played in the league.
And Vermin, 23, may have fellow wing Ondrej Palat, 24, partly to thank.
A couple of weeks ago, AHL Syracuse coach Rob Zettler pulled Vermin, Adam Erne, Henri Ikonen, Yanni Gourde and Matthew Peca aside after practice and showed them video of Palat. The prospects watched every one of Palat's shifts from the Oct. 31 game against the Bruins, and Zettler pointed out all the little things the 2011 seventh-round pick did while playing in all situations to become the "straw that stirs the drink" in Tampa Bay.
"Ondrej is a great guy to watch," Zettler said by phone Friday. "I think a lot of guys can mirror their games after him. He does so many small things well. He's quick, but he's also very hard to play against because he finishes his checks, he always works to get above the puck and always is very tenacious with the puck.
"If you're a smaller guy, you have to be tenacious on the puck. That's how you're going to be hard to play against. And Joel is starting to do that."
For Vermin (pronounced Vuhr-MEEN), from Switzerland, has eyed Palat's path since Day 1. Vermin's best asset is his speed, but he earned his first callup Thursday, ahead of the game against the Rangers, largely because he goes to the higher-traffic areas, something the skilled Palat is known for.
"(Palat) is not a big guy like me, but (those videos) were showing us to be hard in battles, win the one-on-ones, those smaller details that not everyone in the stands can see," said Vermin, listed at 5 feet 11 and 192 pounds, of Palat, 6 feet and 188.
"That's a big part of making it to the NHL. It's really nice to know a guy like him made it here to Tampa, a guy that I'm looking up to."
Zettler said that for video sessions he tries to find an NHL player who is similar to his prospects. He doesn't expect them to be copycats but understands that certain aspects are teachable. Zettler also has used Tyler Johnson as an example, as well as defenseman Jason Garrison to show how to do breakouts and protect pucks down low.
Palat said it was funny to find out he's being used as a model, as even he had doubts he'd make it to the NHL. The Czech considered going back to Europe in 2010 after his first season with Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But Palat stuck with it and was rewarded by being selected 208th overall by the Lightning in 2011.
Two years later, Palat was a Calder Trophy (top rookie) finalist, developing into one of the Lightning's best two-way forwards. Palat remembers watching Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, trying to mimic his all-around game. Though Palat is out several weeks due to a left ankle injury, he's still impacting the Lightning on the ice.
"It's a good thing for younger guys like Vermin and guys at Syracuse; it's motivation on how you should play if you want to get to the NHL," Palat said. "It's all about working hard. Hard work pays off."
Just ask Vermin.