Even before he began building his impressive resume on the ice, Kyle Palmieri was gaining tremendous respect off it.
Just before Palmieri's high school career started at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, N.J., coach Joe Maione suffered a major stroke on the left side of his brain and another in his brain stem.
After spending 17 days in intensive care at Hackensack University Medical Center, Maione was transferred to the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, N.J., where he remained for five weeks. In August 2005, he received clearance to return home, despite the fact he didn't have his full eyesight.
It was during this ordeal that Maione realized his blue-chip prospect possessed even greater character.
"He was only entering high school in '05 and while I was sick, he stayed with me just about his entire freshman year," Maione told NHL.com. "He would make sure I was OK, and that's pretty amazing for a 14-year-old kid. He was willing to stay with me and assist in my transition. I learned a lot about him and he learned a lot about me and, together, I think we were able to help each other.
"Even today, he'll call me or I'll call him at the spur of the moment when he's back in town and we'll go out to dinner or to the movies. He's a special kid and not just because he's a great hockey player."
As part of the team, Palmieri felt it was his responsibility to support his coach in his time of need.
"Coach Maione had a positive influence on me and I'll always be grateful to him," Palmieri said. "Even before his stroke, we were good friends, but that incident really brought us closer. I mean, I spent almost every day with him.
"I don't know whether it was a certain thing that I did to help in his recovery, but I think just my being there and him having someone to talk to all the time really helped."
And while it may seem Palmieri took the road less traveled to the national spotlight, the 5-foot-10, 191-pound forward certainly did enough to earn his fiery reputation at both ends of the ice.
"It's been kind of a whirlwind these past few years, to say the least," Palmieri told NHL.com. "It was only three seasons ago I was playing for St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, N.J.) in the New Jersey state championship game and now I've already been to Finland and Russia with the national developmental team. It's just been a lot of fun."
Palmieri is rated No. 19 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings for the 2009 Entry Draft -- the highest of any player currently with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
In 28 games with the NTDP, Palmieri has 15 goals, including four game-winners, and 29 points.
"He's put together and real strong on his skates," NTDP Under-18 coach Ron Rolston said of Palmieri. "He's got good speed and he takes it to the areas he needs to score goals. He does everything for us and he's a lot of fun to watch."
It's no coincidence the words "strong" or "fun" are used when describing Palmieri.
''I think Kyle's got a little bit of Chris Drury in him," said Jack Barzee, a Midwest-based scout for NHL Central Scouting. "I just look at his passion, his natural skills and his tenaciousness, and that's what I saw in Chris. The thing is, he's a lot of fun to watch because he has that vision along with a wicked shot. He very seldom passes up the opportunity to make the right play -- he's in position to shoot the puck and has that insight into whether to freeze and dish or just let it go."
He's already the eyes of some more established young players, as well.
James van Riemsdyk, the second pick of the 2007 Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, is familiar with Palmieri after playing with him during national team duty and against him when both players were in New Jersey.
"He's a really solid two-way player, really strong out there on the puck and can handle himself physically," van Riemsdyk says. "He definitely made an impression on me."
Palmieri last teamed with vanRiemsdyk at the 2008 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August, although Palmieri failed to make the cut for the World Junior team that finished fifth in January's tournament in Ottawa. Palmieri also played against van Riemsdyk's New Jersey high school team, Christian Brothers Academy of Lincoft, while starring at St. Peter's Prep.
"It was an honor playing with him," Palmieri said. "I played with him before and I grew up my freshman and sophomore year looking up to him. He was like a role model to some extent because that's the route I wanted to go -- I wanted to play for the U.S. National Team and have an opportunity to be drafted."
Palmieri, whose career has taken a similar path to van Riemsdyk's, might not possess the size (6-3, 200) of the current University of New Hampshire sophomore, but certainly has his knack for creativity.
That's something St. Peter's Prep coach Joe Maione recognized the first time he saw Palmieri -- then 13 years old -- in the fall of 2004.
"All coaches look for players who are game-changers and Kyle was that type," said Maione, in his 10th year at St. Peter's. "Just his vision and ability to make his teammates better in certain situations. Teams would double-team him and he'd still find the open man. He had a knack for controlling the game. He knew where the play was going before it even happened. Things you can't teach came naturally to him."
Palmieri spent two seasons at St. Peter's Prep, earning First-Team All-State honors as a sophomore in 2006-07 after posting 22 goals and 58 points and leading the team to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association non-public school championship game.
Those attributes -- and accomplishments -- have led Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson to offer Palmieri a scholarship to play for his team beginning next fall.
"Kyle is a dynamic player who plays with a lot of jam," Jackson said. "He's offensively skilled with excellent hockey instincts and is a fierce competitor. Kyle is one of those players that makes things happen on the ice. He has a great shot and has shown the propensity for scoring big goals at timely points of the game."
Just last week, Palmieri showed his big-game instincts as he scored five points as the United States national U-18 Team took home the title at the Five Nations Tournament in Nykoping, Sweden. Palmieri, who scored in the gold-medal game against Russia, finished just one point behind David Valek in the race for the team's scoring lead in the tournament.
In the same tournament last year, Palmieri scored a hat trick to lead the U.S. team to a gold medal-clinching 5-3 victory against Finland. Then, in April, he had a pair of goals and four points as the U.S. team won the bronze at the World Under-18 Championship in Kazan, Russia.
"Leadership isn't all about wearing the 'C,' '' Palmieri said. "I do tend to lead by example, whether in the locker room, on the ice or away from the rink. I just try to push my teammates in a positive way."
Despite being an underclassman, Palmieri generated quite a response from his St. Peter's teammates as a 14-year-old.
"He kept everything positive and would always offer something to get the group going," Maione said. "It was really nothing out of the ordinary, but just very positive and never was there a time when he said he wouldn't or couldn't do it. That's what leaders do."
Next for Palmieri is this April's World Under-18 Championship in North Dakota and Minnesota in April, followed by the 2009 Entry Draft at the Bell Centre in Montreal.Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer