As the first round of the NHL Draft was coming to a close on June 26th, 2015, Ray Shero made one of his first acquisitions as General Manager of the New Jersey Devils. Shero sent the 41st overall pick and a 2016 3rd round pick to Anaheim for right winger and New Jersey native, Kyle Palmieri. Through 30 games this year, Palmieri has emerged as one of the Devils’ biggest scoring threats and is having a breakout year for his hometown club.
With a logjam of forwards in Anaheim, Palmieri’s chances at cracking a regular top-6 role seemed unlikely. He’s also an RFA after this season and Anaheim GM Bob Murray said he believed Palmieri would score 20+ plus goals this season and that he would not be able to re-sign him.
It seems that Murray hit the mark on his prediction about Palmieri. Through 30 games, he’s already scored 13 goals and is just 1 goal short of tying his career-high and there’s still 50+ games to play this year. If he keeps at his current pace, he’ll finish with 36 goals on the season and would easily set new career-highs in goals and points.
Offensively, Palmieri has been getting it done at even strength and specifically the power play, where he has 5 goals (2 of which also came with the extra attacker on the ice) and 6 assists. At even strength, Palmieri’s SCF% (scoring chances for) at even strength is 5th best on the team for players who have played 300+ minutes at 52.8% and he has the fourth most individual scoring chances with 38 (via War on Ice). His career average SCF% is 49.7%, so he’s not too far from his career numbers and they’ve steadily increased since 2013-14.
Where Palmieri has been absolutely killing it so far is on the power play. Of the 23 points he’s scored on the season, 11 of them have come on the power play, including an assist on Sergey Kalinin’s goal that tied the game up against Detroit on Friday night. His power play point percentage of 47.8% is best on the team. Lee Stempniak and Travis Zajac, both of whom are just above 40% on the year, are next-best after Palmieri.
Palmieri has become particularly dangerous setting up just a top the circle on the left wing where his shot has become a weapon as shown against Toronto on December 8th when he tied the game with a one timer, his goal against Edmonton on November 20th, which ended up being the only goal of that game, or his game-tying one timer against Montreal that sent the match into overtime and eventually allowed John Moore the opportunity to score the game-winning goal.
If there’s some slight concern about Palmieri, it’s that his shooting percentage is a tad high, at 16%, but for someone who is a career 11.8% shooter, it’s not something to worry about at this point in time, even if it comes down a little bit as the season goes on. He’s second on the team for shots on goal with 81. As long as he keeps shooting and creating scoring chances, he should continue to find success scoring goals.
With Palmieri entering restricted free agency this summer, the Devils have a chance to lock up a young, top 6 forward through his prime. If he continues at his current pace of scoring this season, he’ll certainly command a hefty pay raise over the summer, but it will surely be worth it for Ray Shero and the Devils.