It’s tough to deny that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s second line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov is the league’s best. Really, the best argument might be that it isn’t a second line at all.
Johnson generated some headlines with his two-goal night on Sunday while Kucherov’s 39 points matches that of Steven Stamkos, yet head coach Jon Cooper told NHL.com that he believes Palat is the driving force of that impressive young trio.
In fact, he makes a pretty lofty comparison to a perennial Selke candidate.
“I still believe Palat is the straw that stirs the drink on that line,” Cooper said. “He’s oozing with hockey sense and he’s skilled. He is like Patrice Bergeron as a winger to me.”
Looking at possession stats (see here and here), Bergeron is almost in a league of his own, but the comparison isn’t totally outrageous. (Kucherov’s possession stats are pretty impressive, too, although he’s enjoyed somewhat easier assignments.)
At 23, Palat is likely scratching the surface of his two-way game, which makes one wonder if he’ll eventually be as dominant as the elite all-around guys like Bergeron.
One thing that might stand in his way is that the Selke is largely the domain of centers, as NHL.com notes:
The Selke Trophy has been awarded to a center for 10 consecutive seasons and 27 of the past 32 seasons because typically when you talk about forwards who play as many as 20 minutes per game, on the power play and on the penalty kill, and who are used in close situations (down a goal or up a goal) late in games, you’re talking about centers.
It would be a bummer for Palat if he’s disregarded, but the Lightning have to be very excited about the possibilities with him and their other impressive young players.