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Humble Palat downplays praise

“I never was a star,” Ondrej Palat says. “Everyone was bigger and faster. I just had my dreams, and I worked hard.”
“I never was a star,” Ondrej Palat says. “Everyone was bigger and faster. I just had my dreams, and I worked hard.”
Published Jan. 9, 2014

How would you feel if your boss said he could feature you in an instructional video on how to do your job?

Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat was alternately embarrassed and uncomfortable when coach Jon Cooper said that about him.

Asked if he would buy an Ondrej Palat how-to video, Palat looked down and got quiet.

"No, no," he said. "I'm just trying to play hard and do the best for the team."

Actually, what Palat has done has transformed himself from a player who few knew much about into one of the league's must-watch rookies.

His 20 points on eight goals and 12 assists entered Wednesday 10th among rookies. He was tied for third at plus-13.

And his seven-game points streak — in which he has three goals and five assists while playing on the No. 1 line with fellow rookie Tyler Johnson and right wing Marty St. Louis — is the longest this season for a first-year player.

Palat, 22, plays on the power play and the penalty kill, and this week was named to the Czech Republic's Olympic team.

"But what's really impressive is how advanced his play has gotten," Cooper said. "Palat was always looked at as maybe a third-line-type forward. But he's proved he can play on any line and not miss a beat. It's a pretty luxurious thing to have someone who can play anywhere in the lineup and excel at what they do."

Palat has had quite a journey.

Nobody took much notice when he was drafted 208th overall in 2011, or when he was a healthy scratch for AHL Norfolk and playing on the fourth line.

"I never was a star," Palat said. "Everyone was bigger and faster. I just had my dreams, and I worked hard."

That is what is most impressive about the way Palat plays.

Besides his "pretty good poise and good shot," St. Louis said, Palat's best asset is his ability to keep plays alive with his puck retrieval and ability to win battles.

He is not lazy, either, opting to keep his legs moving in pursuit of the opposition rather than just use his stick, Cooper said.

"It's the harder way to be," Cooper said. "It takes a little extra effort to be on the other side of the puck, angle your body rather than try to pick a pocket with your stick. It's almost like he plays the percentages."

"It was just a process," said Palat, 6 feet, 180 pounds, who blossomed last season for AHL Syracuse with 13 goals and 52 points in 56 regular-season games, and seven goals and 26 points in 18 playoff games.

"It was the same thing for me in the AHL when I was a healthy scratch and then on the fourth line," he said. "The game was so fast for me. You get used to it. You just need the confidence to know you can play with those guys. The same thing this year."

No surprise, then, that Palat's output and ice time increased as the season progressed.

"I've seen an accelerated progression," said Cooper, who coached Palat at Norfolk and Syracuse. "It just takes him time to figure it out, and when he does, he adapts and just gets better."

Good enough for an instructional video.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.

. Tonight

Lightning vs. Capitals

When/where: 7:30; Tampa Bay Times Forum

Key stats: Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin has a league-best 31 goals, 12 power-play goals and 225 shots. … Tampa Bay is on an 8-2-1 streak. … Lightning RW Teddy Purcell has seven assists in a five-game points streak. … C Valtteri Filppula has seven goals, 14 points in his past 11 games. … The Capitals's 38 power-play goals are tied for the league lead.

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