Welcome to week 9 of our weekly series, Scouting Spotlight!
Starting last week, we changed up the Scouting Spotlight format to integrate it with the Emerald City Hockey Podcast, which can be found on our YouTube Channel. I’ll do a deeper dive on our pick in this article every Tuesday. Dylan and I will scout the player’s games over the course of the week and provide our thoughts and analysis on YouTube every Wednesday. Each Scouting Spotlight will now finish with a “Schedule Preview” which will look at the player’s schedule for the week and what his matchups look like.
This week, we’re highlighting two players on the same team: the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Ondrej Palat and Cal Foote. We chose to look at them together because it’s highly likely that one of them will be exposed to the Kraken in the expansion draft. The choice between these two players presents the Lightning with a serious dliemma.
The Kraken’s essential role this summer is to pick off prime talent from other NHL teams. The defending Stanley Cup Champions, like a merchant ship filled to the brim with treasure, are perfectly poised for the Kraken to come up from beneath the waves, wreak havoc, and steal some spoils away.
Looking at Tampa Bay’s expansion draft options, you can see that the Lightning are a candidate for either of the two projection options allowed under expansion draft rules. All teams have the option to either protect 8 skaters and a goalie or 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and a goalie.
The two different protection scenarios show how the Palat-Foote decision may take shape. If the Lightning protect 8 skaters, they can protect rookie defenseman Cal Foote, while leaving Palat and several other attractive forwards exposed. If they decide to instead choose the 7-3-1 option, Tampa will be able to protect Palat and two other forwards. But it would leave Foote exposed to Seattle.
So who are the two players that will drive the defending Cup Champions to make a potentially franchise-altering decision?
We’ll start with Cal Foote. The 2017 1st round pick has some excellent hockey bloodlines. He’s the son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote, who played 20 seasons for the Quebec Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, and Columbus Blue Jackets. The two-time Stanley Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist was known for his big, physical presence and hard-nosed play as a defensive defenseman. Cal’s younger brother Nolan, also a Lightning 1st round pick, plays for the AHL’s Binghamton Devils.
While Adam Foote almost defined his era’s old school defensive style of play, Cal is built for the modern game. He has excellent skating ability in both directions, is a good puck mover, and has the ability to create offense with his passing and his shot. At 6’4 and 227 lbs, Cal is two inches taller and a pound heavier than his father. But he uses that size in ways that are more suited to today’s NHL. He closes on gaps quickly, wins board battles, and gets his long stick into passing lanes.
Watching his junior highlights, he looks like a man among boys on the ice. His lateral movement and shot in the offensive zone make him a scoring threat who’s extra dangerous on the powerplay.
Here’s an example of how that skill has already translated over to the NHL:
He’s had his ups and downs in the NHL this season, which is to be expected for a 22-year-old trying to get used to the rigors of the best league in the world while on a competitive team. The goal in the last video remains his only point of the season and his possession numbers have struggled compared to his teammates despite being put in favorable situations. He’s still averaging only 11:11 of ice time per game so he hasn’t been given more than a third pairing role yet. He hasn’t really found his groove at the NHL level, although it has led to some entertaining results like this funny incident where Foote “picked up a 71-54 split” by knocking over the Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin and Bobby Ryan on the bench with an errant pass like a pair of bowling pins.
Despite his early struggles, I wouldn’t get too concerned. With Foote’s combination of size and skill, it’s only a matter of time before he puts it all together. With the kind of tantalizing potential Foote has, it might seem an easy choice to protect him and go the 8-skater route. I thought so at the beginning of the season. But another player who’s on a career-best pace is making the Lightning’s call that much tougher.
Before this season, it was well-known that Ondrej Palat was a very good hockey player. The 7th round pick in 2011 had averaged 46 points a year over his 7 seasons as an NHL regular. He was a valuable winger who could play up and down the lineup and provide secondary scoring. Last season, Palat got hot in the playoffs and was an integral part of Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup winning team with 18 points in 25 playoff games.
But he’s found yet another gear to his game this season. Scoring at near a point-per-game clip, he’s tied for the Lightning lead in points and is second in goals behind only captain Steven Stamkos. Previously thought of as a high-end middle-6 winger, Palat now looks like one of the best forwards on arguably the best team in the NHL.
Palat has been especially useful on the powerplay, with seven goals on the man advantage this season, already breaking his previous career high of five. One of the secrets to Palat’s success is his shot. Look at the accuracy needed to fit the puck into that tiny window on the short side:
That goal isn’t a one-off. Palat has made a home for himself along the right side boards on the powerplay.
It’s not hard to picture the Kraken running a powerplay setup through Palat in that spot should they acquire him in the expansion draft. While he is turning 30 in a couple weeks, it seems like so far Palat is only getting better with age.
Palat’s breakout season leaves the Lightning with the unenviable choice between losing their leading scorer and losing their top defensive prospect. Stuck in a bind, Tampa GM Julien BriseBois might try to find another way out.
Yes, the side deal – a desperate GM’s way of trying to get out of a tough expansion draft situation. As we found out in 2017, it’s a high-risk, high-reward proposition. If the Lightning want to steer the Kraken in a different direction, the cost will be steep. That said, the Lightning will be desperate to keep their roster as intact as possible. There’s also another element that could make both sides agreeable to a side deal: Tyler Johnson. The Spokane native and would be an instant homegrown fan favorite in Seattle. He’s still a valuable contributor on the ice but just isn’t worth his cap hit anymore. The Lightning tried to get rid of him for nothing, waiving him before the season started, but found no takers. The Kraken could agree to make him their expansion pick – for a tidy sum of course. Here’s an idea of what such a side deal could look like:
Would this kind of deal be better for the Lightning? It’s hard to say. They’d keep their roster intact but give up two high-upside prospects and a high draft pick, which could certainly backfire on them. Regardless of what happens, the Kraken are going to net an exciting return.
Schedule Preview: Tues. 3/16 @ DAL 5:30PM PT – Thurs. 3/18 vs. CHI 4PM PTEmbed from Getty Images
The Lightning will enter Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Stars sitting at 3rd place in the Central Division. While a playoff spot is all but assured, Tampa Bay is in the midst of a competitive fight for seeding. The Lightning, Panthers, and Hurricanes are within two points of each other for the division lead, making banking points crucial as they pass the midway point of the season.
Tampa will start the week against a desperate Dallas Stars team, 3-5-2 in their last 10, who will be trying to get out of their recent slump. This Stanley Cup Final rematch will be an opportunity for Ondrej Palat to continue his success against the Stars. He scored a goal in each of the Lightning’s two prior games against the Stars this season and had five points in their six-game Finals series last September.
On Thursday, they’ll return home to face the Chicago Blackhawks, who currently hold the final playoff spot in the Central. Keep an eye on Cal Foote against the Blackhawks forwards, particularly Patrick Kane, who’s had an MVP-caliber season. Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton might try to get his best forward on the ice against the rookie Foote, which could be his biggest test yet.
Follow along with Dylan and I and check out the YouTube Scouting Spotlight this Wednesday to hear our thoughts and analysis on Foote and Palat plus much more!
Scouting Spotlight Video:
We discuss our thoughts on the Palat vs. Foote decision and which player would be a better choice for the Kraken