Ondrej Palát will be New Jersey Devils' Swiss Army knife in 2022-23
The veteran winger can be relied on to contribute in many different ways.
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By Alex Chauvancy (@AlexC_THW)
The New Jersey Devils didn't land the marquee scoring winger that many hoped for this off-season; but they still managed to come away with a scoring upgrade by signing Ondrej Palát in free agency.
Palat is coming off a third straight Stanley Cup appearance and finished this past season with 18 goals and 49 points in 77 games.
With the Devils' off-season close to complete at this point, it's probably safe to assume Palát will end up somewhere in the team's top-six alongside Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier.
But he will have much more to offer than being a top-six winger. In all likelihood, he'll be coach Lindy Ruff's Swiss Army knife.
Palát will add different elements to top-six
There's no doubt Palát has been a very successful player to this point in his career. He's appeared in four Stanley Cups and has two rings to show for it. Even at 31 years old, he's still going strong, averaging 20 goals and 55 points per 82 games over the last three seasons.
Palát's bread butter is his playmaking — he's averaged 35 assists per 82 games in that time — and his ability to create chances for his teammates. He generates point shot setups in the 86th percentile, which will help a team that wants to run offense through Dougie Hamilton to create chances from the back end.
He can create chances off the rush, which is helpful for a team like the Devils that want to play off the rush. And, though you might not think of him as a high-end forechecker, it's one of the more underrated parts of his game:
Because Palát is essentially a jack of all trades, Ruff will be able to use him anywhere in the top-six. Since his bread and butter is playmaking, ideally, Ruff will want to have a shooter alongside Palát and whoever his center is, whether it's Hughes or Hischier.
The most notable shooting option to pair alongside Palát is Yegor Sharangovich, the Devils' best shooter until Alex Holtz establishes himself as an NHLer.
Sharangovich has averaged 25 goals per 82 games over his first two NHL seasons, as well as 0.9 goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five. On a line with Hughes and Palát, two players who excel in transition and can create chances, Sharangovich should thrive.
The same arguments could apply to Holtz and Dawson Mercer as well. If either of those two is in the top-six alongside Hughes or Hischier, they should be good fits alongside Palát.
Holtz's shot was one of the selling points of drafting him seventh overall in the 2020 draft. He'll need players who can carry a line and create chances, which is what Palát and Hischier or Hughes would be able to provide him. Although you may not think of Mercer as a shooter, he has a pretty underrated shot.
Palát's playmaking isn't the only thing he brings to the table. As mentioned, he's an underrated forechecker.
Let's say a line of Sharangovich, Hughes and Holtz is struggling to generate what they should because they can only create off the rush.
Ruff can switch things up by moving Palát to add a bit of a different look to a line that needs to create in different ways.
Ruff will be able to use Palát in different situations
What Palát's addition does is create depth not only in the top-six but really the Devils' top-nine. For example, let's put together a couple of hypothetical lineups up front:
Bratt - Hughes - Holtz
Palát - Hischier - Mercer
Sharangovich - Erik Haula - Tomáš Tatar
Miles Wood - Jesper Boqvist - Nathan Bastian
Sharangovich - Hughes - Holtz
Palát - Hischier - Bratt
Tatar - Haula - Mercer
Wood - Boqvist - Bastian
Any time you can have players like Mercer, Sharangovich and even Tatar on the third line, that signifies you have solid depth up front. Before Palát's signing, that wouldn't have been the case. And if Holtz doesn't establish himself right away to start 2022-23, it'll likely be Fabian Zetterlund playing a middle-six role, as he impressed in his NHL stint last season.
In addition to where he'll play in the lineup, it's almost a guarantee that Ruff will use Palát in late-game situations when closing out games. Whether defending a lead at five-on-five or five-on-six, chances are he'll be out there with Hischier or whichever forwards Ruff wants on the ice when defending a lead.
He's been a reliable defensive player throughout his career, so the move would be justified by Ruff.
Finally, Palát's power-play production has been solid, as he's averaged 5.01 points per 60 minutes over the last three seasons at 5-on-4, which ranked fourth on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He will find himself on one of the Devils' units, which should see improvement from a season ago with Andrew Brunette taking over for Mark Recchi.
With Hughes, Bratt, Hischier and Hamilton, to name a few, to be staples on the man advantage, Palát should find success on the power play.
Palát will be a valuable player for Ruff and the Devils. He's going to get top-nine minutes at a minimum but more likely in the top-six.
He'll find himself on the power play and will probably be one of Ruff's options in late-game situations defending leads.
We can argue about how his contract will hold up but, for 2022-23 and at least the next couple of seasons, the Devils will benefit from having a jack of all trades like Palát in the lineup.
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