Let’s flash back for a moment to December 21st, 2016: our New Jersey Devils had just dropped their 7th game in a row (picking up only 1 point in a shootout loss in that span) to fall to 12-13-7 after a 5-1 drubbing from the Nashville Predators. Worse than that, Kyle Palmieri, the crown jewel acquisition of the summer of 2015, was sitting at a meager 4 goals on the season after that, our team’s 30th game of 2016-17. Critics immediately began to swarm, calling last season’s 30 goals a fluke, rather than citing his lack of production as a slump. I was inclined at that point to agree, that perhaps maybe a 15-20 goal per season ceiling was as good as Palms could be, and that 2015-16 was an anomaly.
Back in the present day, I am happily eating crow about those thoughts, as Palmieri has rocketed up the chart to be the team’s goal scoring leader with 25 goals total, and 21 in his last 40 games. Through the first 30, he had no multi-goal games; he has 4 in the last 40, and 2 in his past 5. While he certainly started the year off slowly, I doubt you find anyone complaining about Palmieri’s production at this point in the year.
While New Jersey only has 10 games remaining on the schedule, I don’t think a repeat of last season’s goal total is out of the question at this point. For the Devils to be a successful team moving forward in the next couple of seasons, I think the team will need to rely heavily on Kyle to pot as many (if not more) goals as he has both last season and this season. If he continues to be a “go-to” player, and the team shores up some of its current weaknesses, I honestly think he will be the key player on this team moving forward.
While Taylor Hall has been an excellent acquisition, he plays as more of a “pass-first” type of player. While the Devils certainly need play makers who can make accurate passes, having the fourth-worst goal differential in the league means that there are not enough pucks going into opposing nets. While part of that problem is defense, the lack of impact scoring forwards is not helping; Adam Henrique may have a 30 goal season to his name, but he is far more streaky than Palms, and seems to coast at times whereas Palmieri’s effort is present night in and night out, whether we’re leading or trailing.
Palms is currently poised to be the team’s leading scorer for a second straight season, and almost certainly will finish as the team’s leading goal scorer. The Devils have once again struggled from a lack of depth scoring again this season, as outside of their top 7 producing forwards (Rico, Palms, Hall, Travis Zajac, Michael Cammalleri, Pavel Zacha and Miles Wood) the remaining 9 forwards on the roster have combined for a miserably low total of 22 goals; I had to go with a top 7 just because Zacha and Wood are tied with 8 goals each; even if you add one of them, it’s still only 30 goals from the bottom line players, which is simply not enough support.
With the struggles of Cammalleri, Henrique at times, and whoever has been in the bottom six, the Devils need leaders among the forward corp. Travis Zajac certainly leads by example defensively, and I think Palmieri needs to be the voice offensively; while Zajac is not the most offensively gifted forward both he and Kyle give 100% on the ice every night. Perhaps next season, the Devils might want to think about where their second A resides, as Cammalleri and Henrique have been anything but leaders on the ice this season. While he struggled mightily for his first 30 games, Kyle Palmieri has rediscovered his magic at just over a goal every other game pace since. If Palms can connect at that pace next season, there’s no reason for him not be a 30 goal scorer again, and should be considered for an alternate captain’s spot. To me, whether you include production or not, I’d rather have two guys who give it their all on the ice with As on their jerseys (from the eye test of watching all games this season) than two guys who seemingly don’t.
Letters aside, Palms has been the best forward for finding the back of the net for the past two seasons; do you think that he is the most important forward as the Devils look towards the future? If not, then who is? Do you think he should be considered for an alternate captain spot rather than someone such as Cam who is not in the team’s long term plans? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!