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Kyle Palmieri’s Secret Weapon — his Two-Way Game

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We all know about Palmieri’s wicked shot. But since joining the Devils 4 years ago, he’s also been one of the better defensive forwards in the game at 5v5 play.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Kyle Palmieri is every Devils fan’s favorite home-grown shooter. Since being acquired in 2014, the Smithtown Sniper leads the Devils in goals (107), with over 30 more than 2nd place Hall (70). He has 24+ goals in every one of those 4 seasons making him one of only 16 players in the whole league to accomplish that level of consistency. And even that might be underselling his skill — Micah McCurdy presented a model for shooter talent in the Seattle Hockey Analytics Conference in which Palmieri (+21%) was 3rd in the NHL behind only Laine (+30%) and Matthews (+22%) in goal odds impact (how much more likely a shot is to become a goal when coming from that player).

None of this comes as a surprise to most Devils fans. We know that he rocks Ovechkin’s office on the PP as well as pretty much anyone in the league. But what you may not know, is that, in 2018-19 he made just as big a mark on the other side of the puck. The chart below is from Evolving-Hockey and it shows the impact on expected goal rates for and against for each Devils skater last year (500+ minutes). The higher on the graph, the better defensively, the further right, the better offensively.

As you can see, Palmieri is in an island alone at the top of this graph in defensive impact. This shouldn’t be surprising given that he led the team with the lowest xGA/60 Rel and the 3rd lowest GA/60 Rel (1st among forwards). Put simply, the Devils faced much less danger last year when Palmieri was on the ice than any other Devil. The anatomy of that impact is most visible by the decrease in high-danger shots observed with Palmieri on the ice.

As you can see, the overall decrease in quantity plus, and especially, the decrease in high danger chances contributes to a -8% impact on danger against. For reference, perennial Selke-contender Patrice Bergeron had a -4% impact (the actual Selke-winner was neutral, btw).

At this point you’re probably wondering if this is a new thing for Kyle. It’s a little complicated, but the short answer is “no,” this is not out of character for Kyle. According to Evolving-Hockey, his GA impact over the past 3 seasons (-10.8 goals) is the 3rd best in the NHL behind only Ryan O’Reilly and Andrew Cogliano — both respected defensive forwards. Now, that can be a little misleading since it’s difficult to disentangle GA from goalie impacts, but even if we switch to xGA he’s still above average — his -2.46 indicates even strength defensive impact slightly better than that of Travis Zajac. Remember when I said “it’s a little complicated”? Well, if we just look at this past year, his -2.64 impact is 17th among all NHL forwards — so almost all that xGA value came from last year. So why am I saying it’s not out of character? He did it 4 years ago too.

If you add up all those single-season xGA RAPM impacts, Kyle Palmieri has would rank 76th out of 774 NHL forwards in EH’s default filters and, wait for it, #1 in the NHL in GA impact. Yup ... 774 forwards in the NHL played 50+ minutes in at least one of the past 4 seasons and Palmieri had better impact on goals against than every one of the other 773. This is especially noteworthy because shooters are often among the worst defenders in the league. Ovechkin (+13.37 xGA — 4th worst among NHL forwards), Draisaitl (+7.54 — 24th worst), Laine (+7.51 — 25th worst), and Matthrew (+6.62 — 30th worst) are all in the bottom 30 in the NHL. Those guys and Kyle are all comparably great shooters, but they are all in the 4th percentile or below defensively, and Kyle is in the 90th.

In shot, when you combine this unexpected defensive impact with the offensive chops we already know he has, you end up with one of the best even-strength players in the NHL. And when you combine THAT with his obviously excellent PP performance? Well I’ll let you guys connect the dots there.

Palmieri had excellent defensive impact this past season. It’s not completely out of character (he did it in 2015-16) and he’s never been bad defensively (neutral in 2016-2018). Poor defense is a vice that undercuts the value of many other snipers including nearly all of the ones with comparable shooting talent to Palms. This combination of his skills makes Kyle Palmieri a truly unique player, and one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL.

What do you guys think about Palmieri? Do you think he’s strong defensively at 5v5? Have you noticed his play? Do you think he’s not as good as these metrics say? If so, why not? Thanks, as always, for reading and leave your thoughts in the comments section below!