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BLOG: Zajac, Palmieri Leave Legacy as Mentors

The newly departed veterans left a legacy of mentoring and teaching

by Sam Kasan @SamiKasan /

The New Jersey Devils made the first big splash in NHL free agency after trading veteran forwards Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri to the New York Islanders in exchange for a 2021 first-round pick, 2022 conditional fourth-round pick and two minor-league prospects. 

Though the diamond of the deal for New Jersey was the first-round selection, general manager Tom Fitzgerald made it clear where in the draft order he hopes that pick will ultimately fall on draft day. 

"I hope it's the 32nd pick. I really do. I hope these two gentlemen can win a Cup," Fitzgerald said of Zajac and Palmieri. "I would love nothing more than that. 

"The most important thing is for these two gentlemen, I really, really hope nothing but success for both of them." 

The Devils came into the season with the second-youngest NHL roster. It got even younger with the losses of Zajac and Palmieri, but the team's growth couldn't have happened without them.

Fitzgerald spoke highly and with admiration of both players, and the ways that they've contributed to his attempt to build the Devils into a Stanley Cup winner from the ground up.

"I do believe that the legacy and impact that those two men have left in the locker room didn't go unnoticed," Fitzgerald said. "How to be a professional, workouts after games, routines before and after practices. That's contagious. They did what they were expected to do because that's who they are. 

"I believe this young group are like sponges and soaked up all that experience, and will apply it moving forward."

Zajac, 35, played the past 15 seasons in a Devils uniform after the team selected him in the first round (20th overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft. He appeared in 1,024 games for the club, scoring 202 goals and 550 points. He is only one of four Devils to reach the 1,000-game mark. 

"He's valuable to us," Fitzgerald said. "How he's helped our young players, the way he plays, how simple he is, he's direct, his work ethic, he hasn't changed from the first day he got to New Jersey to his practice today. He's a true professional, a true gentleman. He'll always be a New Jersey Devil."

Palmieri, 30, played the past six seasons in Jersey after being acquired in a trade from Anaheim. He's notched 140 goals and 266 points in 397 contests. The perennial 20-plus goal scorer also represented the club at the 2019 All-Star Game.

"When you want to inject youth into your lineup you need, I said men (in a previous interview), but I meant you need experience," Fitzgerald said. "Teams have to be able to walk before you run. We're walking right now. The experience that these kids are getting thanks to the veterans that we have is invaluable. I think we've seen some kids take some big steps thanks to the vets."

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