NEWARK, N.J. — The NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and Kyle Palmieri remains a New Jersey Devil.
Going into the weekend, many fans were feeling as though an exit for the former Montvale resident was a foregone conclusion. The rumor mill was spinning at full speed, as it tends to do in the days leading up to the deadline. Maybe there wasn’t much truth to some of them, but if there is smoke, there is fire, right?
Interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald made a shrewd move to trade Blake Coleman on Feb. 16 with a year left on Coleman’s contract, but Fitzgerald was not compelled enough to pull the trigger on a player so integral to the team.
“Why would I want to move a 30-goal scorer?” Fitzgerald said Monday at Prudential Center.
Fitzgerald was open to hearing what other teams were offering on the 29-year-old winger, but ultimately no one blew him away.
“I told teams they need to come in and blow my socks off. No one did,” he said. “I think everybody knew exactly how I felt about Kyle Palmieri and felt that I wasn't gonna be bullied to move him.”
Palmieri came to the Devils as a key young piece in the rebuild. Then-GM Ray Shero and Fitzgerald felt he was undervalued by the Anaheim Ducks, and he was stuck behind a loaded forward group that was coming off a Game 7 loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.
Palmieri would have a chance to play a bigger role for his hometown team and consistent minutes.
Since then, he’s grown into one of the team’s best forecheckers and biggest offensive pieces. In his first season with the Devils he scored a career-high 30 goals, and he hasn’t scored less than 24 in a season since. He plays on the top line, the top power play unit, and has a 48.2 percent Corsi for his career.
Palmieri has also made a mark on the community with his foundation. Squad 21, a partnership with Vet Tix, turned into a full-fledged foundation that helps active and retired military service groups.
The once-undervalued role player now plays the role of locker room leader. The group is young. Fitzgerald plans to build around Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier with a group of players similar in age to the two centers. Hughes will be 19 this spring and Hischier just turned 21.
You need established NHL players in the locker room and on the ice. The Devils could get a few veterans to bridge the gap between the kids and vets in the offseason and they likely will, but they already have one who has been influential in the development of Hischier, one of their “pillars,” so they felt it best to keep him.
“Kyle is a very popular player. He fits into what we want to do as an organization going forward and will help continue to grow Nico, grow Jack, and grow the other young prospects that we feel can come up and contribute,” Fitzgerald said.
“I know I’ve used the word ‘man’ but you know what? Experience is really important to help develop young players. We don't feel that we're that far off but you move a guy like that, how do you fill that hole? They don't grow on trees.”
This one grew in the Devils’ backyard. Palmieri came to New Jersey as a key piece of the rebuild and he’ll stay in New Jersey as key piece of the rebuild.