Despite missing twenty games during this past season with various ailments New Jersey Devils winger Kyle Palmieri still managed to put up a third consecutive twenty goal season and finished with 44 points. That total was thirteen points off of his career-high of 57, set during his first season with the Devils (2015-16).
The biggest chunk of time he missed came from late November to mid-December when he suffered a broken foot that sidelined him for twelve games. Once he got back into a groove it was on – as 19 of his 24 goals came when the calendar flipped from 2017 to 2018. The 27-year-old has found a real home with New Jersey and has become an integral part of their team over the past three seasons once GM Ray Shero was able to pry him away from the Anaheim Ducks at the 2015 NHL Draft.
The Devils were still able to make the playoffs despite the absence of no. 21 for those twenty games (thank you Taylor Hall) and is a lock to be in their top-6 again next season, but with a healthy Palmieri next season they will focus their attention on locking down a more solidified playoff position rather than facing the East’s top team as the final Wild Card again. Granted, they also were missing Marcus Johansson for 50-plus games but he’s not the goal scorer that Palmieri is, though he is also a very important player on the roster too.
“For us, we matured a lot as a group as the year went on,” he said at the end of the season. “We learned what it took to win and I think that’s something that with so many new faces, we built that chemistry and a lot of it is done off the ice. Through training camp, the West Point trip, the road trips…we built a really close-knit group here. A bunch of guys playing for each other and that was something from day one of training camp, that was one of the things we wanted to do. Building that brotherhood that Coach Hynes talks about; we took a lot of good steps forward.”
After being held pointless over the first two playoff games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Palmieri picked up three points (PPG, 2 assists) over the final three games and finished the five-game series with 13 shots on goal. “It’s tough saying goodbye. It’s the last day for a while of coming to the rink and see familiar faces,” he said on New Jersey’s locker room clean-out day. “But summers usually go pretty fast and before you know it we’ll be back here and gearing up for training camp and I’m looking forward to that.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) May 30, 2018
“I think obviously the way this season went – how good of a start (we had), all of the work we put in from training camp – we know what it takes to get yourself through a season. Obviously there was a lot of new faces here this year and hopefully next year it’s the same thing; let’s hit the ground running. I thought our last training camp was great, everybody was into it and everybody bought in right away from day one. That’s what we’re going to need.”
Often times during the season Palmieri found himself on a line alongside Hall and rookie Nico Hischier, and it’s a strong possibility we could see that trio again in the coming seasons. The trio was a formidable top-line when they were together, and if that continues in the near future the Devils will be once again a tough team to play against.
“Those are two really, really good players. They make it a lot easier on whoever they’re playing with,” he said. “I think Nico as a rookie, 18-years-old coming into this league, playing center, playing heavy minutes, and all of the things he did were incredible. How much he’s matured, you can’t even really set a ceiling for him. He’s going to be a special player to watch for years to come.”
“Obviously Hallsy – he’s hopefully going to get a trophy in June that he definitely deserves,” Palmieri added. “He had the type of year that you don’t see too often. The way that he put this team on his back and led the way, that was something really special to be a part of. I was really happy that I was able to play with those two guys.”
That trio finished first, second, and third on the Devils in scoring, and in fact, Palmieri and Hischier combined for only three more points than Hall’s amazing 93-point season that was one for the ages. But the key now is to be able to wipe the slate clean, build on what they did this season, and do it again. If they don’t qualify for the playoffs again, things could go off the rails pretty quickly as we’ve seen throughout the NHL.
“I had a taste of that in Anaheim, where we made the playoffs the couple of years that I was there full-time (2012-2015) and then you don’t make it for a few years,” Palmieri said. “Then you don’t make it for a few years. I said it to myself after we clinched a playoff spot – you do take it for granted, it’s not easy to get in there. You look at the teams that were in it and went deep in the playoffs last year and they weren’t in it this year. I think we did a lot of things that built us into a playoff team and that’s something that we have to start with that mindset in day one of training camp again this upcoming year.”
Palmieri grew up in New Jersey and lived through the Devils’ glory years and Stanley Cup championships and hopes to one day be a champion in his home state. “Growing up here I knew the respect that people had for this organization. Being a kid playing in the Devils youth program, it was pretty special to wear that crest. To be able to do it at the NHL level, some ten years later, I always held this organization and that jersey in the highest regards just because that’s all I ever knew. (This season) we gained a lot of that respect back but we still have a lot of work to do to keep going.”
There likely won’t be a lot of turnover on the roster this offseason in New Jersey, so Palmieri and his teammates can hit the ground running once camp starts again in September with the knowledge of what they need to do, and the belief, the confidence, that they can do it. As always, health will be a key and the Devils will need 80-82 games of Palmieri in 2018-19 instead of 60-62 games.