Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ondrej Palat was nervous when his agent called him recently.
Palat, who surprised everyone scoring 23 goals and adding 36 assists in his rookie season, got the biggest surprise when his agent delivered the news.
“Then I found out I was getting a deal and I was really happy,” he said. “It doesn’t get more exciting than that.”
The 23-year-old was scheduled to be a restricted free agent on July 1, but his performance during his rookie campaign was not just good enough to earn accolades as a Calder Trophy finalist, awarded to the top rookie in the league, but a three-year, $10 million contract extension from the Bolts.
Palat was also the only rookie in the NHL to be named Rookie of the Month twice (January and March), while leading the team with 59 points (23 goals, 36 assists).
“I didn’t expect success at this level at all this year,” Palat said. “I came to camp just wanting to make the team and when I made it I thought I’d be on the third or fourth line, maybe even a healthy scratch.”
Steven Stamkos’ injury in November quickly caused his promotion to the top line, where he hit his stride with line mate and former captain Martin St. Louis. Palat started the season on the third line.
“That’s when I learned how to play in the NHL,” he said.
When Stamkos returned, Palat’s continued to play at an elevated level on the first line, no matter who he was next to.
Monday’s deal is also identical to fellow rookie forward Tyler Johnson’s, who was re-signed by the Lightning on May 23. The two friends’ careers have ran parallel since winning a Calder Cup with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals during the 2011-12 season.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Palat said. “It’s awesome he’ll continue to play here with me. I’m really happy for him.”
Now with Palat and Johnson arelocked down as important pieces of the Lightning’s plan to bring a Stanley Cup back to Tampa Bay, the two have their sights set on heading to Las Vegas for the first time for the NHL Awards at the end of June. From there Palat expects to come to training camp in September and prove that his play in the future should come as no surprise at all.
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