Prospect of the Week: February 25, 2013

We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for February 25 is … Ondrej Palat, W, Syracuse (AHL – USA)

Ondrej Palat doesn’t make headlines.

The Syracuse Crunch forward is a complimentary winger, usually photographed in the background of a dramatic goal or its celebration. But without him, that play probably doesn’t happen.

Palat gives a scoring line 2-way ability or playmaking, whichever is needed the most. Like Martin St. Louis with the Lightning, if a coach adds him to a line, that line gets better.

This trait didn’t just begin this year in Syracuse or last season with Norfolk when he was helping the Admirals to the Calder Cup.

In junior with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Palat was on one of the league's best lines alongside Flyers top-10 pick Sean Couturier. Surely Couturier was responsible for Palat’s success. Yes, Palat had some skill and decent size (6-0), but he didn’t skate like the wind so he wasn’t selected in his initial draft year and lasted until 208th overall in 2011.

The prevailing thought was simple: Couturier carried him.

The linemate situation was reminiscent of Rimouski’s Brad Richards in 1998. Richards’ success was due to Oceanic linemate Vincent Lecavalier, right? Wrong.

Richards, who fell to the third round while Lecavalier was taken first overall, made a name for himself on his own with Rimouski and later with the Lightning, leading the club - which included Lecavalier - to the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Similarly, Palat can’t be ignored any longer. He’s a legitimate NHL prospect.

"I came to Norfolk last year and they thought I was more of a power forward that scores goals," Palat told Bolt Prospects earlier this season. He quickly showed the organization the defensive and playmaking sides of his game, powered by his high hockey IQ.

Physical measurables don’t always make a prospect; it’s what's between the ears.

One of the Lightning farm’s best decision makers, Palat upped his offensive game this week – something he’s had to do more of since fellow Crunchers Cory Conacher, Alex Killorn, and Richard Panik were promoted to the Lightning.

Whatever the team needs.

Palat had seven points in four games last week, including three multi-point games. On Monday and Wednesday he had two assists against Albany and Toronto, respectively. After a scoreless game against Springfield on Saturday, he had a season-high three assists against Connecticut on Sunday.

The Crunch are on a season-high seven-game win streak, which coincides perfectly with Palat’s return from injury seven games ago. They won just two of six without him.

Palat, who has seven goals and 33 assists this year to go with a plus-22 rating, projects as a coach’s dream, top-9 winger at the NHL level who can play in all game situations and make his linemates better. If he is able to add some strength this offseason, he could push for a spot with the Lightning as soon as next year.

Don’t overlook him.

Honorable Mention: Like Riku Helenius last week, Cedrick Desjardins, who had two shutouts, is too old to be considered a prospect by our site. Other candidates included Tyler Johnson, who showed he was very good at the hockey with five goals, including a hat trick; reigning Prospect of the Week Nikita Kucherov, who had a four-goal game; and Crunch defenseman Mark Barberio, who had a highlight-reel goal and four points.

Previous 2012-2013 Prospect of the Week winners:

February 19, Nikita Kucherov, W, Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL-Canada
February 12, Alex Killorn, C/W, Tampa Bay, NHL-USA
February 5, Cory Conacher, W, Tampa Bay, NHL-USA
January 30, Nikita Kucherov, W, Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL-Canada
January 23, Cory Conacher, W, Tampa Bay, NHL-USA
January 15, Artem Sergeev, D, Val-d’Or, QMJHL-Canada
World Juniors break
December 17, Alex Killorn, C/W, Syracuse, AHL-Canada
December 10, Nikita Kucherov, RW, Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL-Canada
December 3, Cedric Paquette, C, Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL-Canada
November 25, Tyler Johnson, C, Syracuse, AHL-USA
November 20, Richard Panik, W, Syracuse, AHL-USA
November 12, Alex Hutchings, W, Florida, ECHL-USA
November 5, Nikita Kucherov, W, Quebec, QMJHL-Canada
October 30, Slater Koekkoek, D, Peterborough, OHL-Canada
October 23, Dustin Tokarski, G, Syracuse, AHL-USA
October 15, Cory Conacher, W, Syracuse, AHL-USA
October 9, Cedric Paquette, C, Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL-Canada
October 2, Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Ufa Jr, MHL-Russia
September 25, Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Ufa Jr, MHL-Russia