In 2016-17, Kyle Palmieri was coming off his first season as a Devil — a season in which he led the Devils with 30 goals and 57 points. At only 25, we could be cautiously optimistic that this was just the beginning of a great Devils career. And with 2 goals in his first 4 games of 2016 it looked like business as usual. But then our budding star went ice. freaking. cold. He scored 2 goals over his next 26 games which include a 9-game goalless drought and two 7-game ones. Our 25-year-old phenom was a flash in the pan. He would never score another goal in his NHL career and was forced into retirement at the age of just 27.
Sike. He scored 20 goals in the next 50 games and led the team in goals and points for a second straight year. Such is the life of a sniper.
And it is through that lens that I’ve viewed Palmieri’s “slow” start to the season. I’m always hesitant to levy too much blame on players who are currently in the midst of a percentage-based dry spell. But it’s not been only the lack of scoring that’s produced some ire among the fanbase. He’s also had a couple miscues — most notably a blueline turnover that produced the first goal against on the season — and been a somewhat brutal penalty killer.
So in this piece I want to look at a few things quickly as a sanity check.
- Is Palmieri’s lack of goal-scoring concerning?
- Is the rest of his game a negative impact too?
- What can be done to improve it?
- What are the trade value ramifications?
Let’s begin with the goal-scoring.
Is the goal scoring concerning?
Palmieri has scored 132 games in 371 games with the Devils. Statistically, that gives him about a 3% chance of going goalless in any given stretch of 9 games. This is not going to be common, but it happens. And, in fact, as I said in that opening paragraph, it’s even happened to Palmieri in 2016-17.
The mere fact that Palmieri has not scored yet should not be troubling. What would be troubling is if he were not generating opportunities. Luckily, that appears not to be the case. According to NaturalStatTrick, Palmieri is shooting at a similar rate to his career average and is actually near the top of his career xG rate (1.03 per hour).
According to MoneyPuck which adjusts expected goals for shooting talent, Palmieri (one of the best shooters in the NHL) is currently underachieving his shooting talent by more than every skater in the NHL other than Domink Kubalik. This is unlikely to continue and is one of the elements of the early-season struggles that should essentially right itself.
Is the rest of his game a negative impact too?
I’ve spoken before on this blog about how Palmieri’s two-way game is his secret weapon. His 200-ft impacts are categorically positive over his NJ career. Early this year, his defense is worse than it’s been the last two years, but in line with his first seasons as a Devil. His net impact is narrowly above average in both goals and expected goals, but well shy of his career impacts.
A 9-game sample is relatively small for models like this to regulate themselves and, even though he’s lower than his career average, I’d say it’s within the bounds of random variation, especially since his impacts are still a net-positive.
What can be done to improve it?
As mentioned above, there are some features that are likely to self-correct (shooting percentage). As far as what else can be done, the most impactful interventions will have to do with deployment. Kyle Palmieri has seen 4 goals against in 15 minutes on the penalty kill and joins teammates Yegor Sharangovich and P.K. Subban as the league-leaders in shorthanded xG rate against (all over 12). This is not a role he has historically held, and, early on, does not seem to be one at which he’s particularly adept.
While is PK position has been constant this season, his PP usage has been fluid as he’s wandered around the OZ a fair bit. He’s done this occasionally in his career, but has been historically most productive as the trigger from the slot. While his even-strength xG rate is the highest of his NJ career, his PP xG rate is at its lowest.
There are few players that are as sure a bet as Palmieri being productive from the slot on the PP. Plant him there, and have your playmakers like Hughes find ways to get him the puck.
What are the trade value ramifications?
So the overall magnitude of Palmieri’s struggles is a little overblown, and there are reasonable interventions that could chip away at the slump. But what does that do with regards to trade value?
The Devils are an surprising upstart team this seasons so far (COVID notwithstanding), but are generally believed to be on the outside looking in on the playoff race. And with Palmieri on an expiring deal, he’s among the most loudly touted trade targets.
The reason Palmieri is a valuable trade target is because every team wants additional goal-scoring but to not sacrifice possession impacts to get there. Palmieri is one of the only players that is an elite shooter and positive defensive impact over the last few years. This season, though, he’s been below-average defensive, has failed as a penalty-killer, and has yet to score a goal.
Regardless of how that impacts what he’s likely to do for us, it is likely to scare away contenders from forking over high draft picks and prospects for a 30-year-old whose production looks over-the-hill.
Kyle Palmieri has yet to score a goal, but will likely resume his historic scoring pace at 5v5 sooner rather than later. His 200-ft impacts are not too far off from his career norm, but at 30-years-old it’s not unthinkable that there’s been some modest decrease. His usage is atypical for his career, and returning to a consistent and comfortable position on the PP and possibly removing him from the PK may give him a jumpstart. And the sooner the better, because the assets we would be able to recoup in a trade wane with every goalless game.
What do you guys think about Palms’s early start? Does he look like he’s lost a step? More than a step? Does he look the same and production will come soon enough? Do you want him traded? What would be necessary to get back in return.
As always, thanks for reading and leave your thoughts in the comments below.