If you don’t think the NHL draft is like throwing darts once you get deeply into it, consider that Joe Pavelski was the 205th name called in 2003 and Ondrej Palat the 208th pick in 2011, both in the seventh round, when neither kid was in the building to put on a team jersey for a photo-op.
And yet, the Dallas Stars centre Pavelski went into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday tied with Tampa’s Brayden Point for top spot in playoff scoring with 13 goals. And Lightning left-winger Palat, smart and certainly skilled enough to play with Point and Nikita Kucherov, was third with his 11 goals.
Pavelski has 61 playoff goals in his career, most of any U.S. born player.
Palat has 60 points in 91 playoff games.
As we get ready for the 2020 NHL draft next week, this is what makes scouting so unpredictable.
The 205th player selected and the 208th. What turned off the scouts? What did they miss?
In Palat’s case, nobody took him in 2010 when he was 18 because he was recovering from mononucleosis and had an ordinary junior season. And 29 teams passed on him in 2011 when the draft was at the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota, before Tampa said, “aw, why not.”
“The first time I saw Palat, I said ‘this kid knows how to play. Lots of hockey sense, a good feel for the game,’” said Dallas coach Rick Bowness, who was also in Tampa as Jon Cooper’s right-hand man when Palat broke in.
“Back in Palat’s draft year, he was playing on the same team (junior Drummondville) all year with (Sean) Couturier and the scouts were all watching Couturier because he’s going to be a first-round pick. I don’t know how they missed Palat.
“As a coach, when you see players like Palat drafted late, you’re thankful the scouts found him for starters. But I don’t know why he lasted that long … when I was in Phoenix we also had (defenceman Zbynek) Michalek and he was really good and smart and I don’t think he was even drafted.”
“I’ve never scouted amateur but guys slip through.”
Pavelski was playing in Waterloo, Iowa in the USHL his draft year. He had 69 points in 60 games but the scouts barely noticed. He went to the University of Wisconsin, played two years and was in the NHL in San Jose to stay in 2006-07.
Again, maybe the scouts weren’t crazy about his skating, but 205th player picked? After Colorado took a Swedish winger Linus Vetell, who never played a single NHL minute.
And Palat playing on the same line with Couturier and getting 96 points?
Palat was four picks from the end of the 2011 draft. That was an interesting seventh round, mind you. Winger Ryan Dzingel (332 games) went 204th to Ottawa. Eleven kids drafted in that round have played NHL games from Alex Broadhurst (2) to Scott Wilson (193), Iiro Pakarinen (134) and Alexei Marchenko (120).
Matthew Peca, Tyler Graovac, Colin Blackwell and goalies Garrett Sparks and Anton Forsberg also went in that round, when most hockey fans are dozing off.
Tampa had one pick in the seventh round (208) but wanted Peca instead. They dealt ex-Oiler first-rounder Marc-Antoine Pouliot to Arizona for the 201st overall pick and took Peca then. They used their own pick on Palat.
Nobody has a better feel for Palat than Cooper, who had him on his AHL team for two years before both made the jump to the Lightning.
“The one thing about Palat is he plays the game the right way so he’s always in the battle. I always say the sign of a good player is the guy who wins the 50-50 battles or the 75-25. He does that,” said Cooper. “He doesn’t have the foot speed Kucherov or Point do, that breakaway ability, but he makes high-end plays under pressure in tight space.
“Remember five years ago when that Triplets line was famous. Palat was a huge part of that but he didn’t get the accolades then either because of Kucherov and (Tyler) Johnson. He does the heavy lifting, he’s highly respected by Kucherov and Point, and as you’re seeing in these playoffs, he’s got the skill to finish.”
Lightning defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk figures Palat is one of those players who will always be in the shadows. He’s not flashy, he’s not a power guy. He’s just very good at a lot of things, a complimentary piece to the puzzle.
“You look at Kucherov and Point and they think the game a certain way and it’s not always easy for someone to jump on their line and be on the same IQ level. But he can,” said Shattenkirk. “Ondrej certainly knows how to play with those guys and knows his role. He can be a physical forward and does a lot of the dirty work in the corners and blocks lots of shots but he has a tremendous amount of skill and doesn’t get enough credit. He goes to the net, gets gritty goals, and makes a lot of plays behind the scenes, ones that don’t get noticed.”
Same story back in 2010 and 2011 when the NHL scouts thought his game was vanilla instead of pistachio with a cherry on top.
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