After Ray Shero took over as GM in New Jersey when Lou Lamoriello stepped down in the spring, his primary task seemed to be cleaning out as much of the rot that had accumulated in the Devils' organization as possible. The Devils wanted to get younger, shed some contracts, and work on creating a stable foundation that the Devils could build on in the coming years. For the most part, Shero's approach was to let most of the teams' older free agents walk and allow the Devils to try to fill in holes with some of the organization's youth. In free agency, the team stayed quiet beyond some tinkering via overseas signings and a few value buys in the leadup to the season. The one arguably splashy move that Shero and the Devils made over the summer was the acquisition of Kyle Palmieri from the Anaheim Ducks on draft day. And so far, it's looking like it could have been one of the more savvy moves by any team this summer.
While offseason that was quiet, at least as far as the roster goes, the Devils are now clearly positioned much better going forward than they were in the spring and one of the main reasons that outlook has improved is the Palmieri trade. The feelings among Devils fans about the trade were generally good at the time, but the way that Palmieri has played in his first 24 games as a Devil has only improved the outlook. The Devils needed to flip only a 2015 second round pick and a 2016 third to make the deal happen and, while those assets give Anaheim a decent shot at finding an NHLer at one of those two spots, it means the Devils basically flipped some magic beans for a bona fide top-six NHL forward. Not to mention they were able to acquire aforementioned magic beans by trading 20 games of pending UFA Jaromir Jagr to Florida at the deadline.
What looked like a smart, solid move at the time is now looking like highway robbery, as Palmieri is embracing the bigger role he's been given in New Jersey. His rate stats in Anaheim had a lot of people, particularly in the stats community, pegging him as a candidate to break out with more ice time. Anaheim was reportedly worried about his consistency and that he'd be a casualty of a pending cap crunch in the next couple years, though, so they wanted to flip him while they still could. His 18 points would be leading the Ducks in scoring right now, ahead of even Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Meanwhile, Palmieri's contributions have helped put the Devils in contention for a playoff spot in the early going. He is one of the five forwards who are essentially powering the entire offense right now for New Jersey and the Devils acquired him for little more than a song. As much as that pleases the fans in New Jersey, it's not likely to be music to the ears of those loyal to the Ducks.
Palmieri's early success doesn't appear to be a mirage, either. His shooting percentages aren't out of whack from an individual or an on-ice perspective. Individually, he is shooting 14.1%, which is a shade high, but not terribly out of wack when compared to his career average of 11.3%. He is scoring because he is able to consistently get pucks on net, to the tune of almost 3 SOG per game. His 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage is perfectly average as well, meaning the team is not getting exceptionally lucky to prop up his assist numbers either. Palmieri's possession numbers don't jump out the same way as his shots and scoring numbers, but he has been a positive relative to his teammates in CF% (attempts) and SCF% (scoring chances) thus far (stats via War-on-Ice). He has been great in multiple situations too, as he has been a big reason for the success of the Devils' power play at this point. Palmieri has been scoring and he's been doing it honest, on both the power play and at even strength.
Palmieri has also just looked the part for the Devils. When he is on the ice, he just looks dangerous with the puck. He's not necessarily a big guy, but he is strong on his skates and has shown the ability to beat opposing staters one-on-one with his speed and quickness. He is also unafraid to fire pucks on the net, which those of us who have been watching the Devils for the past several years know is a welcome sight. The Devils still, of course, lack scoring depth but the introduction of Palmieri to go along with players like Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique at least gives the team multiple options who are looking to shoot when they get the puck and are capable of making opposing teams pay for their mistakes.
Beyond this season is where this deal has a chance to really pay off for Shero and the Devils, though. A big reason they targeted Palmieri was his age, as he remains shy of his 25th birthday and remains a restricted free agent when his contract expires next summer. If the Devils can convince Palmieri to sign on for the long haul, they have an opportunity to strengthen the foundation of the franchise significantly over the next several years. He could be a mainstay on the team and someone who, along with players like Henrique and Adam Larsson, helps guide them into a new competitive era. If that can happen, the trade for Palmieri could be one of the bigger draft day steals in recent memory.