The Leafs may have their own Ondrej Palat buried in the bottom 6 right now, waiting for a bigger opportunity

Mike Armenti
June 25, 2022  (3:34 PM)

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ondrej Palat is due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer after spending his entire 10-year NHL career with the Bolts, winning 2 Stanley Cups along the way, with a shot at a third this coming week.

What stands out about Palat, aside from his excellent two-way play and penchant for stepping up in key moments, is the fact that he was a 7th round draft pick (208th overall in 2011) who has relied on his work ethic and intelligence to defy the odds and become, not only a full-time NHLer, but one who can make an impact.
There exists a contingent of Leafs Nation who hopes that the Leafs take a run at Palat this summer if he does indeed make it to free agency, but his potential contract demands could be too lofty for the Buds. Palat is coming off of a 5-year deal that has paid him $5.3M and after two Stanley Cups with the potential for a third, his next deal could end up being similar to that, if not larger.
But what if the Buds already have their own version of Palat who simply needs an opportunity higher up in the lineup to prove that he can be equally as effective as his Czech counterpart? They may have just that in 26-year-old Swede Pierre Engvall.
Like Palat, Engvall was also drafted in the 7th round (188th overall in 2014) and had to work his way up to get a shot. Unfortunately for Engvall though, he has remained buried in the Leafs' bottom six with little hope of playing higher up in the lineup, despite actually being a strong two-way player who is way more productive than he is given credit for.
The comparisons don't end at both being 7th round picks. Engvall and Palat also posted the exact same G/60 (goals per 60 minutes) last season at 0.9 in all situations. In addition, Engvall's A/60 in all situations (assists per 60 minutes) was 1.2, not all that far off from Palat's 1.5 and their points per 60 were 2.0 and 2.3, respectfully as well.
Engvall generates more shots than Palat and both players have posted strong Corsi and Fenwick numbers as well. The biggest difference between the two players seems to be the opportunities they've been given. Palat has seen regular use in his team's top 6, while Engvall has been used primarily in a 3rd or 4th line role.
Comparing point totals, they're not all that far apart. Engvall posted 15 goals and 35 points in 78 games last season, while Palat notched 18 goals and 49 points in 77 games, playing an average of 3 more minutes per game than his Leafs counterpart. Both players play a strong two-way game and are excellent penalty killers for their respective teams.
Here's an interesting idea. Rather than overpaying someone on the free agent market to come in (perhaps even Palat himself) and fill the Leafs' 2LW spot, why not just give Engvall more responsibility and a greater opportunity higher up in the lineup? Generally speaking, you never really know who's going to sink or swim until you throw them in the deep water.
For the Leafs, penciling Engvall in on the 2nd line LW with Tavares and Nylander could end up saving them a boat load of money in the long run. I'd imagine that Engvall is not going to cost much more than $2M per season. Why not try to lock him up to a multi-year deal (2 or 3 years) with the intention of trying him out as a top 6 winger? Worst case scenario after 10-15 games, if it isn't working, shift him back down to the third line with David Kampf and pull off a trade for someone who CAN play in the top 6. Or simply elevate someone else from the lineup into that spot.
This could be a solid opportunity for the Leafs to spare themselves from tying up some valuable cap dollars and use that space to address an area of need, such as in goal. Plus, it's not as if Engvall would be playing with nobodies. He'd be slotting in beside John Tavares, who has built a career on elevating his line mates. On the other flank, they have a highly skilled William Nylander, who also has excellent vision and hands and I just think that some of your top guys should be able to turn a very good third liner into, at worst, an average 2nd liner. If they can't, it probably doesn't matter who you slot in beside them.. maybe the problem is JT and Nylander.
I'm not saying this is what the Leafs WILL do, I'm simply suggesting that if the Bolts never gave Palat a legit shot in the top 6, we may not know what an important piece he ended up being for the Lightning. Maybe Engvall is the Leafs' home-grown version of Ondrej Palat. I'm also not saying that Engvall IS a legit top 6 winger for certain. I'm simply suggesting that we don't know that he isn't one.
25 JUIN   |   395 ANSWERS
The Leafs may have their own Ondrej Palat buried in the bottom 6 right now, waiting for a bigger opportunity

Should the Leafs give Engvall a look in the top 6?

Yes - worst case, they can make a trade later22958 %
No, now's not the time for experiments11930.1 %
Why not just sign the REAL Ondrej Palat?4711.9 %
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