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Ondrej Palat should be remembered as ‘one of the top players that ever was a Bolt’

The longtime Lightning forward reaches the 400-point milestone with a three-point night resulting from his characteristic hard work.
Ondrej Palat on Tuesday became only the seventh player in Lightning history to score 400 points with the franchise.
Ondrej Palat on Tuesday became only the seventh player in Lightning history to score 400 points with the franchise. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 5|Updated Jan. 6

TAMPA — The Lightning’s all-time scoring list includes all the names you’d expect, a collection of some of the team’s most dynamic scorers and players synonymous with the franchise’s championship success.

Ondrej Palat doesn’t naturally fit within this bunch — players such as Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Brad Richards. He doesn’t have the first-round pedigree, the individual trophies or even a 25-goal season.

But when he’s remembered, there’s no doubt Palat will go down as one of the franchise’s biggest success stories.

With a three-point game in Tuesday’s 7-2 win in Columbus — he scored Tampa Bay’s first two goals and assisted on another — Palat became the seventh Lightning player to reach 400 career points.

“It’s humbling,” he said after the game. “I’m just so happy that I’m in the NHL, with the same team for so long and we had great success here. So I’m just happy I’m helping my team and I would never (have) even thought about getting this milestone.”

Palat was a late seventh-round pick in 2011. Though 207 players were selected before him, only eight from that draft class have more NHL points than Palat.

“(Palat) is going to go down as one of the gems in the history of the Lightning,” said coach Jon Cooper. “So important for us in so many ways that don’t show up on the scoresheet and, all of a sudden, now you look up and he’s got 400 (points).

“Gosh, I’m just extremely happy for him, just the blood, sweat and tears that kid’s put into this organization. And I’ve been here to see them all, all through the minors and all the way up, and it’s been a pleasure. He’s a class act as a kid and hell of a hockey player.”

Palat’s points Tuesday were reflective of how he plays, the way he manages to place himself in the perfect spots to help his teammates.

Palat started the rush on his first goal, feeding Brayden Point at the blue line and keeping up with the speedster as he weaved through defenders, then getting the puck back from Point and roofing a shot into the net.

On his second goal, Palat deflected defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s shot from the side boards with his stick, sending a one-hopper toward the goal that Joonas Korpisalo had no chance of stopping.

Palat’s secondary assist on Point’s early second-period goal was an equally heady play. When Mathieu Joseph stick-checked the puck away from Columbus defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov as he entered the Lightning zone, Palat collected the puck and sent a cross-ice pass to Point along the far wall.

“He’s so responsible,” Point said. “He’s always in the right spots. He’s got a ton of talent, he sees the ice really well. He’s just a complete player, and he battles and he blocks shots and you know what you’re gonna get from him every night.

“He always brings it, and he’s got your back. I think that’s why he’s such a good teammate. And that’s why guys love to play with him. I know I do. He’s just a workhorse for us all-around. And it’s been a pleasure. I’m happy for him to get to 400.”

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Palat is second on the Lightning with 12 goals this season, and his 11 even-strength goals lead the team. He has a team-high five game-winning goals and is fourth in points (27). And that’s while playing without usual linemates Point and Kucherov for most of the season. Keep in mind, the salary cap-strapped Lightning left Palat unprotected in the expansion draft before the Kraken selected Yanni Gourde.

Palat’s contributions in the postseason — his nine playoff game-winning goals are most in team history, and his 37 postseason goals are second only to Kucherov (43) — show how much he’s meant to not only the team’s back-to-back Cup runs, but its run of success over his nine full seasons.

“You look at teams that win, and more often not those are the guys you remember,” Cooper said. “You think of the impact (Palat) had not only in 2015 (when the Lightning reached the Cup final) with the famed Triplets line, but everything he accomplished in our two Cup wins, it’s pretty tough to say we would be there without Ondrej Palat.

“He’s going to go down as one of the top players that ever was a Bolt. There’s going to be number of players that have over 400 points, but Pally earned every one of those, and he’s earned a whole slew of other guys a bunch of points, too, that he probably gets the third assist on or he’s the guy that’s taking the hit to make the play or going to retrieve the puck.

“You win championships with guys like Palat,” Cooper continued, “and he should be remembered as one of the Bolts that, without him we don’t win these Cups.”

Lightning career points leaders

Marty St. Louis 953

Steven Stamkos 906

Vinny Lecavalier 874

Victor Hedman 553

Nikita Kucherov 551

Brad Richards 489

Ondrej Palat 401

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