Last season was a banner year for Kyle Palmieri. Since being traded to the New Jersey Devils at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Palmieri was penciled in for a top six role on a team that badly needed right wingers and offense. He has secured such a spot - and a lot of fans - very quickly and played significant power play and even strength minutes for all eighty-two games last season. The Devils benefited from Palmieri easily setting career season highs in games played (82), assists (27), shots (222), and goals (30). As Palmieri sailed in an empty net goal on the last day of the season, he has secured a title of being a "thirty-goal scorer," something that carries a reputation that most offensive forwards want to have. As a pending restricted free agent, Palmieri picked a great time to have a career year as well as having the benefit of legitimately being described as a thirty-goal scorer.
The Thirty Goal Mark
I'm not being flippant about the importance of hitting that plateau. Whether you care a lot or not much at all about league scoring, not so many players have hit the thirty-goal mark. Here is some perspective. Palmieri made his NHL debut in the 2010-11 season with Anaheim. There have been 1,591 skaters who have played at least one game in the NHL from that season through to this past season according to Hockey-Reference. Only 74 skaters have scored at least thirty goals in one season amid that span of six seasons, also according to Hockey-Reference. Therefore, hitting that plateau in recent times puts a player in a select company.
However, being a "thirty-goal scorer" only once is not as valuable as someone who can possibly do it multiple times. That's even less common than just meeting that mark once. Going back to Hockey-Reference, only 28 players in the last six seasons have broken the thirty-goal mark multiple times. Could Palmieri reasonably be expected to join that even-more-select group of skaters? In other words, can Palmieri be a legitimate "thirty-goal scorer" and score that many goals multple times in the future? The answer to that will go a long way towards determining what his next contract should be. It is something Ray Shero and the Devils are surely considering. But let's look into it ourselves too.
The Big Picture View
Palmieri is 24 years old and has completed his fourth season where he has primarily played in the NHL (six seasons in total). Last season, again, was a career year. Palmieri hit career highs in most basic categories. He also had a career high shooting percentage of 13.5%, a full percentage point higher than his previous high of 12.5%. That may be a reason to think his production may dip in the immediate future. However, Palmieri legitimately played a larger role in New Jersey than he did in Anaheim. According to Hockey-Reference, his average time on ice jumped at least three and a half minutes between 2014-15 with the Ducks and 2015-16 with the Devils. Due in part of that, Palmieri took more shots than ever with 222. That's an average of 2.71 shots per game; which is much higher of his previous highest shots per game average of 2.19 (2013). While a lower shooting percentage would keep him from hitting thirty, a similar shooting rate would still make him a reliable producer. He won't likely be going from 30 to 20 unless he shoots at his lowest ever shooting percentage in a season (9.5%). Even then, at 2.71 shots per game, that's roughly 21 goals. So to get back to thirty goals again - whether it is next season or not - he'll want to shoot the puck more than he did last season and be about as successful as he was last season. More shots will offset small dips in percentage.
A Closer Look at Palmieri's 30 Goals in 2015-16
That is all well and good. However, the numbers do not really paint a full picture of the production put up by Palmieri. He scored thirty goals, but what kind of goals did he score? How many of those goals were fortunate occurrences that Palmieri will not likely have in future seasons? Where did he even score the goals from? To answer those questions, I watched video - through NHL.com and Youtube, as needed - of each of his goals. Here is what I found out:
|Goal #||Date||Situation||Goal Type||Shot Type||Location||Goal Loc.||SC?||Royal Road?||Legit 1A?||Legit 2A?||Fluke?|
|1||10/13/15||5-on-4 PP||Deflection||Deflection||Slot||Medium right||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|2||10/27/15||6-on-4 EN PP||Rebound||Backhand||Slot||High middle||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|3||10/29/15||5-on-5||Shot||Forehand||Inside right circle high||High right||Yes||No||NA||NA||No|
|4||11/06/15||5-on-5||Shot||Forehand||Inside right circle high||Medium left||Yes||No||Yes||NA||No|
|5||11/08/15||4-on-3 OT PP||Shot||Forehand||Inside left circle low||Medium left||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|6||11/12/15||5-on-5||Rebound||Forehand||At crease||Low left||Yes||No||Yes||NA||No|
|7||11/20/15||5-on-4 PP||Shot||Forehand||Inside right circle high||High right||Yes||No||No||Yes||No|
|8||11/28/15||6-on-5 EN||One-timer||Slap shot||Outside right circle high||Low right||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|9||12/01/15||5-on-5||Shot||Forehand||Inside right circle high||Low left||No||No||Yes||NA||Yes|
|10||12/04/15||5-on-5||Shot||Forehand||Inside right circle low||High middle||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|11||12/06/15||5-on-5||Shot||Forehand||Inside left circle low||High left||No||No||Yes||NA||No|
|12||12/08/15||5-on-4 PP||One-timer||Slap shot||Above right circle||Low right||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|13||12/11/15||3-on-3 OT||Shot||Backhand||At crease||High middle||Yes||No||Yes||NA||No|
|14||12/22/15||5-on-4 PP||Rebound||Backhand||Slot||Low left||Yes||No||Yes||NA||No|
|15||12/26/15||5-on-5||Wraparound||Forehand||Right of the net||Low right||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|16||12/29/15||5-on-5||Deflection||Deflection||At crease||Low left||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|17||01/02/16||5-on-5||Wraparound||Backhand||Left of the net||Low middle||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|18||01/16/16||5-on-5||One-timer||Forehand||Left of the net||Low left||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|19||01/21/16||5-on-5||Rebound||Forehand||At crease||Low left||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|20||01/21/16||5-on-4 PP||One-timer||Slap shot||Outside right circle high||High right||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|21||02/16/16||5-on-5||Shot||Forehand||Inside right circle high||Medium right||Yes||No||Yes||NA||No|
|22||02/20/16||5-on-5||Shot||Forehand||Below left circle||High right||No||No||No||NA||Yes|
|23||02/23/16||5-on-4 PP||One-timer||Forehand||Slot||Low middle||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|24||03/03/16||5-on-4 PP||Rebound||Forehand||Below right circle||Medium right||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|25||03/06/16||5-on-5||Shot||Backhand||At crease||Low left||Yes||No||Yes||NA||No|
|26||03/19/16||5-on-4 PP||Deflection||Deflection||At crease||Low middle||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|28||03/24/16||5-on-5||Shot||Forehand||Inside right circle high||Low right||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes|
|29||03/24/16||5-on-4 PP||One-timer||Slap shot||Outside right circle high||High right||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|30||04/09/16||5-on-6||Empty Net||Forehand||Neutral zone||Low middle||No||No||Yes||No||No|
By my count, Palmieri had four goals that would be considered flukes. His ninth of the season was a shot right off a faceoff win that beat the goalie because it deflected off an opposing defender's body. His nineteenth goal was his first against Ottawa on 1/21/16. Palmieri fired a shot, it hit the post, and the puck rebounded up and right back to Palmieri. As the Sens were looking to their right, Palmieri gloved down the shot and beat the goalie by the time he knew what was up. The fluke was not in what Palmieri did, but in that a shot hit the post and came right back to the shooter. That's not likely to occur again. I called his twenty-second of the season a fluke as it was a shot from about the goalline that went off Braden Holtby's back and to the top corner. Palmieri flung up a prayer and was rewarded; I can't expect that to happen again anytime soon. It was the sharpest of sharp angled shots. Lastly, there was his 28th of the season. While Palmieri's shot was true, M-A Fleury really fouled up on a shot he should have stopped. So I would say Palmieri was fortunate on four of his thirty goals. A fifth could be argued on his 14th goal, where he scored off his own rebound off a dump-in. But, on that one, Detroit's goalie was ready and Palmieri just torched a not-so-alert Detroit defense to do so. The dump-in didn't make the goal.
Let's break this down a little further. Based on the traditional "home plate" for scoring chances - from the crease out to the dots, up to the top of the circles - Palmieri scored seventeen of his thirty goals in that area. There were a couple of shots that went in with Palmieri just on the outside of that area, so it's arguable the number should be higher. Even so, more than half of Palmieri's goals were from shots that would be defined as a scoring chance.
What did not happen so much were passes across the center of the offensive zone. Per Steve Valiquette, that's called the Royal Road. Changing the point of attack from one side to another gets the goalie moving and can make them more vulnerable to shots. Palmieri's goals did not often go across the royal road. Only six of his thirty goals - or six out of the twenty nine that actually had a primary assist - involved a pass across the middle of the ice. As good as those passes are, they did not make up a large part of Palmieri's production.
Speaking of assists, twenty nine of his thirty goals had a primary assist and twenty of them had a secondary assist. Twenty six of those twenty nine primary assists were legitimate, or intentional passes that became shots for goals or shots that became rebounds that Palmieri put home. Among the twenty secondary assists, only fourteen were legitimate. Who gave Palmieri the most pucks? Zajac had more secondary assists than anyone else with seven (three on the power play) and he had the most overall with ten. The primary assist leader on Palmieri's goals was actually David Schlemko, with five (three of those were on the power play) of his six assists to Palmieri being first assists. Zajac played plenty of hockey with Palmieri; Schlemko is a bit of a surprise. Reid Boucher (three primaries, two secondaries) and Jacob Josefson (one primary, three secondaries) were the only other Devils to assist on more than three of Palmieri's thirty goals last season.
Let's continue the breakdown with some more organized charts:
This chart adds up to thirty two. That's because two of those power play goals happened with an empty net situation (Palmieri's second of the season) and in overtime (his twelfth, the winner against Vancouver). While he has three goals with empty net situations, he himself only has one empty net goal - the other two were when the Devils pulled their goalie. Palmieri definitely enjoyed his time with the man advantage, but 5-on-5 play just made up over half of the goals he did score. 5-on-5 play most definitely matters.
Palmieri may have been featured as a target for one-timers on power plays, but he did the most damage with just regular shots on net. Those one-timers did provide more than a few goals; four of them came on power plays. However, he managed to put back more than just one or two rebounds on top of a handful of deflections and wraparounds. Palmieri clearly showed that he was more than just a slap-shot machine from the right circle.
In terms of the shots themselves, Palmieri had more success with his forehand than any other. The slap shot only yielded four goals; all of which were one-timers. This is not to say that Palmieri should not take a normal slap shot, but it was not lighting any lamps in 2015-16.
When looking at goals only, Palmieri did not really favor a particular spot to shoot at. While he had more shots go in low and to his left; he nearly had as many that went high and to his right. Clearly, those spots were open but Palmieri scoring more in those locations than most others suggests a possibly tendency. Other than those goals that went high and to his right, most of his goals came in at lower heights than most. That also may point to a particular tendency.
|Inside right circle high||6|
|Outside right circle high||3|
|Inside left circle low||2|
|Left of the net||2|
|Above right circle||1|
|Below left circle||1|
|Below right circle||1|
|Inside right circle low||1|
|Right of the net||1|
Palmieri scoring six of his goals from the inside (the half of the circle next to the slot) and high (above the faceoff dot) section of the right (relative to the net) circle should not be a surprise. Palmieri is frequently hanging out there or behind the dot on power plays. A few goals off the rush ended with him firing from that particular part of the zone. It's an area where he can quickly release his shot at a goalie that may be expecting him to come in more and/or go towards the middle. Palmieri was just as productive going to the crease itself. While he won't be confused as someone who scores a lot of "greasy" goals, but was brave to pick his spots to pile in goals at close range. You could add in those three goals at the net - two left of the net and the one right of the net - to support that notion. Speaking of close ranges, Palmieri put in five from the slot.
All told, Palmieri's production largely came from the right side and towards the center. He had a few on the outside half of the right circle and one killer shot from above the right circle, too. That's thirteen goals in or around the right circle and to the right of the net. The center is also an area of success with thirteen goals either right at the crease or in the slot. That's where he was successful and why he kept firing from those areas of the zone as opposed to going to the left (relative to the net) side.
After looking at all thirty goals, it is easy to identify where and how Palmieri was successful last season. Palmieri was at his most productive in the right circle, the slot, and at the crease. While only seventeen of his thirty goals were in the scoring chance area, he was mostly in those higher percentage areas when he did score. Nearly all of his goals included someone feeding him the puck or creating the opportunity to score, and nearly all of those primary assists were legitimate. While Palmieri was featured on the first power play unit to be set up for one-timer blasts from the right circle, most of his goals came with other shots - while he did score four of his eleven power play goals with those one-timers. With this past season in mind, it's easy to see where Palmieri should be set up to succeed - and that he should be set up by someone to succeed.
With four fluke goals and one empty netter, It is reasonable to think that 25 is repeatable. With the season-by-season stats mentioned earlier, it is reasonable to think that Palmieri will shoot about the same number of shots but still score fewer goals just by not getting a few breaks here and there. After all, he just got to thirty, it's not like he exceeded thirty last season. Could he reach thirty as-is in the future? Possibly, but it will require Palmieri to shoot as well as he did, shoot as much as he did, and ideally more than he actually did in 2015-16.
Since he is still relatively young and he will continue to play significant minutes at even strength and on the power play, the opportunity will be there. But as it stands, he could be just on the outside looking in more often than not. To that end, while I expect him to get paid real well, I would not necessarily assume he's got a shot at 30 in every one of the next six seasons or so. To answer the question in the headline, he can but I'm not confident just yet. If he can generate even more shots on net and the power play at least functions as it did last season, then I would be more confident. But for next season at least, I would keep expectations down to 25 goals or so. That's definitely not a shabby amount, but it's not such a high number in this league as thirty has become in recent seasons.
The Devils could and should help him out (and others) to make that more of a possibility, though. Again, nearly all of Palmieri's goals included someone giving him the puck or creating the opportunity to score. Again, among the people setting him up, it was spread out with only Zajac and Schlemko providing helpers on at least five of the goals he scored last year. Together, this suggests to me that the Devils need to find someone(s) who are adept at passing the puck and involve them on the offense. While the passing project is yet to be completed, I'd like to think Palmieri has received passes into the areas where he has scored. With players who are better on the puck and more consistent in executing puck movements, Palmieri and other players will benefit. It would likely put Palmieri in a better position to put up more attempts, more shots, and thirty or more goals in future seasons - and help justify whatever deal he'll want and/or get in this offseason.
In short, while he did it in 2015-16, I think he needs some help or have fortune break the same way before he can do it again. I'd like him to do so as I want and expect he'll be a Devil for quite some time. In the meantime, what do you make of Palmieri's goalscoring? Do you think he can reach thirty goals again and be a proper "thirty-goal scorer" instead of one of many who just did it once in recent memory? What do you think the Devils should do to help him be at least as productive as he was last season? Based on this breakdown of his goals and his production, does it change how much you would give Palmieri if you were Shero? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Palmieri's thirty goals last season and what the future holds for him in the comments. Thank you for reading.