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Amidst Turmoil, Kyle Palmieri is the Devils’ Constant

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The Devils have had plenty of ups and downs in the Shero era (admittedly more downs than ups), but none seem to impact Palmieri’s game.

New Jersey Devils v Dallas Stars Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

The Devils saw a rapid ascent from league-basement to a playoff season with an MVP-winner, and then an immediate descent back to the league basement which resulted in trading the aforementioned MVP. A lot of things have gone up and down in that time. We’ve seen the rise and fall of the coach, John Hynes. We’ve seen the fall (and rise?) of Andy Greene. We’ve added premier talent in Hischier and Hughes, and seen it go away in Hall. We’ve witnessed the growth of Blake Coleman into a top 6 forward (1, 2, 3). And we’ve seen the decline of the Devils goaltending, and Cory Schneider, in particular (1, 2, 3).

But in all that time, one player has been money in the bank — Kyle Palmieri.

Since being acquired in 2015, Kyle Palmieri has been not only the Devils most consistent forward, but one of the most consistent players in the entire NHL. Devils fans who have seen recent players like MCWH (Mike Cammalleri when healthy) and Michael Grabner can appreciate how streaky goal-scoring can be. But, that’s not the case for Kyle. In each of his 5 seasons as a Devil, Palms has scored at least 0.325 goals per game, and shot at least 12%. He is one of only 5 players to accomplish this feat in each every one of the last 5 years. The other 4 are Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Brad Marchand, and Mark Scheifele. Half of the members of that list have a Hart trophy already, and no one would be shocked if the other half each added it to their mantle before the end of their careers as well.

According to Evolving-Hockey, Palmieri has scored 122 goals on 95 xG over these 5 years. That 27 goals added is top 20 in the NHL over that time. He’s great at getting in position, he’s great at finishing once in position, and he’s great at doing both with consistency. His shot alone is a valuable enough asset to warrant a spot on an NHL roster. But what makes him a truly special player is the sum total of his impact over all 200 feet of ice.

I’ve talked about his criminally underrated defensive game before, and I probably will again, unless people decide they agree. There are tons of ways to measure this, but here’s one: these are his impact heatmaps viz Micah McCurdy’s Hockeyviz over time.

Hockeyviz

Put simply, these are the isolated impact of a player on shot volume accross the offensive and defensive zones. They’re distinct from Evolving-Hockey’s RAPMs in that they are “chained” — they start each season assuming a player will “pick up where they left off” rather than start fresh. That “-18.1%” that you see means that the opponent’s offense is 18% less dangerous when Kyle is on the ice this season. That number is the lowest among all Devils skaters — far lower than guys with better defensive reps like Zajac (-3.7%), Rooney (-9.2%), and Coleman (-14.8%). It’s even better than famously adept defensive skaters like Anze Kopitar (-5.6%), Sean Couturier (-14.3%), and reigning Selke-winner, Ryan O’Reilly (-15.9%).

Merging these two features makes him the NHL-equivalent to the NBA’s “Three-and-D” player — someone who’s threatening shot will both produce points and stretch the defense, and who play’s well enough in his own end to see positive impact no matter where he is on the ice. This makes him not just one of the most consitsent scorers in the NHL, but one of the most consistent players.

Palmieri’s GAR rate has been about a standard deviation above the average skater (~85th percentile) ever season. In fact, he’s been worth at least 0.15 standings points per hour in every one of his 5 seasons with the Devils. He’s one of only 10 players to reach that level of consistency along with: Marchand, McDavid, M. Foligno, Stone, Kucherov, Bergeron, Couturier, and Tarasenko.

Hopefully, Kyle’s repeated presence among the greatest players of this era in these lists offers sufficient context to understand just how valuable he’s been to the Devils franchise in the Shero era. The Devils’ MVP is now in Arizona, and the “torch has been passed” to Hughes and Hischier. But make no mistake, the stabilizing on-ice presence for the Devils is the same person it has been for 5 seasons: Kyle Palmieri.