The New Jersey Devils will be short one Top-6 forward top start this season with Travis Zajac on IR; as such, New Jersey’s other forwards are going to need to collectively fill the gap. Kyle Palmieri has been an important part of the Devils offense since coming over from Anaheim before the start of the 2015-16 season. He has been the team’s leading goal and point scorer in both seasons since he has some over, and at only 26 years old, he figures to be a part of the Devils for the foreseeable future.
How big of a part will he be though? If you ask me, even on a team with Taylor Hall and highly-touted prospect Nico Hischier, I think Palms might just be the most important player on the current roster, and could be the key to having a competitive 2017-18. I’m not saying that he’s the only player that matters or that the team will be making the playoffs, but I do believe that if we want the team to at least hang around in the standings and not be getting blown out every night, then Palmieri will need to improve upon his past two seasons.
Kyle’s shooting percentage has been consistent during his time in New Jersey; each of the past two seasons he’s shot 13.5% which is only slightly above his career average of 12.2%, yet he had 4 fewer goals last season than in 2015-16. Obviously, this is due to him taking fewer shots over the course of the campaign even though the team as a whole averaged more than 3 additional shots per game from the season prior. Simply put, Palms need to find a way to get more pucks on net because he’s one of the most successful Devils at getting them past opposing goaltenders.
Palmieri will also more than likely see his defensive responsibilities increase with Zajac out until at least December; he was used semi-regularly on the penalty kill, but quite a few of the forwards who averaged more ice time per game than he did (Devante Smith-Pelly, Sergey Kalinin, Vernon Fiddler) will not be on the team this season. It’s safe to say that Brian Boyle will fill some of the void, but Palms is no defensive slouch either and will be almost certainly called on to kill penalties. Additionally at even strength, Palms will more than likely need to be “playing Zajac” on his line; Hall is even more of an offense-first player than Kyle and no matter who joins them on the top line, they won’t be able to replicate Zajac’s two-way ability. Adam Henrique may join them, and that will alleviate some of the burden, but Rico isn’t Travis, and Kyle has shown himself to be capable at aiding in shutting down other teams forwards. We’re going to need it this season.
Another reason to have high hopes for Palmieri: he started 2016-17 with just 4 goals in his first 30 games, meaning that he potted 22 in his final 50 appearances for .44 goals per game. If he doesn’t have the cold start that he did, and had he scores at the .44 GPG rate, over a full season he would finish with 36 goals. Taylor Hall is a great passer who is more than capable of finding his teammates in great spots to shoot; a full season of Hall-Mieri could be the Hail Mary (yes it’s a sad and fully intention pun/play on words) that New Jersey needs to keep their season afloat.
Maybe I’m in the minority here; maybe I’m completely wrong; maybe I’m overestimating Palms’ value; but at the same time, maybe I’m right. Maybe Kyle Palmieri winds up being the most important player for the Devils in 2017-18; perhaps as he goes, the team goes. I think he has it in him to be a 65 point player if he scores at the same pace he did in his final 50 games last season, and even if this is another season without playoffs, it’s important for all of our players to take a step forward, even ones like Kyle who already contribute.
Do you think Palmieri will be our most important player this season? Do you agree that he will be taking on more defensive responsibilities at least until Zajac comes back? Do you think he and Hall be kept together for the long haul of this season or split to spread the offense? Will he post yet another shooting percentage of 13.5 as a Devil? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!