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Czech List, North American Edition: Bolts Palát Added to Calder Watch

By on March 14, 2014 in North American with 0 Comments

By Radoslav Vavřina, Czech Correspondent for All Habs Hockey Magazine

LIBEREC, CZE — Early into this National Hockey League season, it seemed that one of the top contenders for the Calder Trophy, the award for the top rookie of the season, was going to be a Czech forward. Not much has changed despite the fact that the phenomenal Sharks youngster Tomáš Hertl has been sidelined for the past couple of months following a collision with Kings captain Dustin Brown.

 (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

With Hertl pretty much out of the race, others have stepped up. No Czech rookie this year has more points than another skilled forward, smaller and flashy Ondřej Palát of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Alongside other two rookies, Slovak winger Richard Pánik and fellow Czech, defenseman Radko Gudas, Palát is a part of what seems to be a promising colony of players born in former Czechoslovakia.

All three have represented their respective countries at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and while Palát looks the best of the three while playing for the Bolts, Gudas stole the show in Russia when he, as expected, brought tough play and perfect defending skills to the table.

Over in Florida’s second-largest metropolitan area, Palát is, quite suddenly, a star. Recently he has been collecting points after points and he doesn’t seem to start slowing down. Even after the departure of one of his linemates, the legendary Martin St. Louis, the Czech import has been quite lethal. (Editor’s note: Palát has been a valuable late-season addition to many fantasy hockey lineups as well.)

Back in 2011, the 20-year-old Palát was drafted out of Drummondville as a late-round possible gem that he has seemingly turned into. In fact, he was heading there back home, beginning to play at the Under-18 level at the age of fourteen. Four years later, he failed to impress the scouts during his draft year, despite a pretty stellar season in the U20 Extraliga and an appearance at the U18 WJC.

A transfer to the QMJHL ensued and after an average rookie season with the Voltigeurs, Palát had a remarkable second year in which he went just four points short of a triple-digit season point total. That also made him fourth among QMJHL point-scoring leaders with Jonathan Huberdeau being one of the only three who managed to get more points on the board.

That was enough to send the message out and the Bolts where the only team that heard it loud and clear. Promotion to the American Hockey League ensued and in his second year over there, he convinced the Lightning that he’s got what it takes by becoming the points and assists leader in the post-season.

Palát started this season in a modest way, but on the line with St. Louis and another rookie, Spokane native Tyler Johnson, he turned into a key member of the Tampa Bay team. In Sochi, Palát didn’t get enough ice-time to show off entirely what he’s made of, but left a good impression among those who know what hockey’s all about.

 (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

What may also be interesting about the Czech tandem of Bolts rookies is the fact that just like Palát, rugged rearguard Radko Gudas was drafted as a 20-year-old as well. For some reason, he was overlooked in two straight draft years despite the fact that he first suited up for a professional First League team in Beroun at the age of sixteen and had been a steady member of the team for a couple of years before transferring to WHL’s Everett Silverips.

Over in the birthplace of T. J. Oshie, Gudas combined his offensive talents with all-round toughness, showing the scouts that he might be what they were looking for. So in 2010, Tampa used its third-round pick to secure rights to him. His penalty minutes haven’t gone below 150 in a single season since then and he only has to gather 28 more of them this year to get to that number again.

Here in the Czech Republic, Gudas has been a welcomed sight as he’s close to being the top Czech defenseman at the current time while not playing by the stereotype created by Marek Židlický and Tomáš Kaberle, two offensive blueliners with low defensive upside.

Pánik, the native of Martin, Slovakia, has also been followed by many Czech fans as he spent three years playing for junior and pro teams in Třinec and Havířov in the northeast of the country. The Lightning used its second-round pick back when he was 18 in 2009, believing the final product could be big. So far, it hasn’t been bigger than what the two Czechs have showed.

Yes, now it might look like Tampa Bay is not a huge threat, but wait until these kids grow up with Victor Hedman patrolling the defensive zone as well as Gudas and guys like Johnson or Mark Barberio with Vladimir Namestnikov teaming up with Ryan Callahan and Steven Stamkos.

That could turn the team into a Stanley Cup contender.

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