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Palmieri, Devils ready to take next step after return to playoffs

Forward says making postseason not enough anymore for New Jersey

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Kyle Palmieri could feel the shift. He could feel the perceptions around the NHL changing as the season went on, as his team kept winning, and as it became clear that the New Jersey Devils were not a fluke.

He could feel the rest of the NHL noticing.

"I think last year we gained some respect back around the League and made sure teams respected us either coming into our building or playing us at [their] home," the forward said. "I think it's something that we want to keep building, being a tough team to play against."

 

[RELATED: Devils make no major moves after ending playoff drought]

 

Palmieri arrived in New Jersey in 2015-16 from the Anaheim Ducks, back to a hometown team whose glow had diminished from its glory years, culminating with a last Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2011-12. The Devils finished seventh in the Metropolitan Division in 2015-16, nine points out of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then came 2016-17, and a finish that left them last in the Eastern Conference.

"I think mentally two years ago, 2016-17, was tough," Palmieri said. "It was a year that we took some steps back, both on and off the ice. It wasn't a fun atmosphere to go to the rink every day. A lot of things changed over last summer, and we came in and got off to a good start in training camp from Day One and I think a lot of things happened off the ice that translated into some success on the ice."

There was a Hart Trophy-winning campaign from Taylor Hall, with 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in 76 games. There was an impressive rookie year from Nico Hischier, with 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists).

Video: TBL@NJD, Gm4: Palmieri scores PPG on one-timer

There was a playoff spot, the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, after the Devils earned 97 points. It was a return to the playoffs after a five-year absence.

There was respect.

"I think in the summers and obviously being around the League for a while you have buddies on other teams and [you know] the things that are said and just the mentality," Palmieri said last week while playing at the Foxboro Pro League.

"Obviously I played against Jersey when I was in Anaheim and it went from, when I first came into the League, the boring New Jersey Devils to a team that maybe you were looking forward playing against, and I think coach [John] Hynes and [general manager Ray Shero] have done a good job of building a team and a roster that is invested in being tougher to play against. That's something that we all buy into as a team."

For Palmieri, it was a positive season, though he finished with his fewest points as a member of the Devils. After seasons of 57 in 2015-16 and 53 in 2016-17, Palmieri had 44 (24 goals, 20 assists) in 62 games last season, after missing 12 of his 20 games because he broke his right foot in November blocking a shot.

Video: PIT@NJD: Palmieri goes five-hole on Murray

He is spending the summer in Foxborough, training with Brian McDonough at Edge Performance Systems, as he has for the past three summers.

"Obviously some things to build on toward the end of the year there," said Palmieri, who had nine points (four goals, five assists) in his final seven games of the regular season. "I think for me staying healthy is a big thing. I had some injury issues when I was in Anaheim and I've been fortunate in New Jersey, other than the broken foot and some other little stuff, but I think for me staying healthy and making sure I'm on the ice night in, night out, is something I want to focus on."

Not that he could have prevented the broken foot other than, as he joked, "drink a little extra milk maybe."

That's the plan, in the end: To stay healthy, to be on the ice for 82 games, to see where his Devils can go this season with the momentum from 2017-2018 behind them.

Video: CAR@NJD: Palmieri drills home PPG from sharp angle

Because, as he emphasized, no one is satisfied with what happened in New Jersey last season. The Devils got into the postseason, but lost in five games in the Eastern Conference First Round to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That was better. It wasn't enough.

"For us, it's not being content with having a playoff spot and being in a wild card, things like that," Palmieri said.

"We want to be a team that makes deep playoff runs and year in, year out competes for the Stanley Cup. It's time to take that next step. Last year is behind us and it doesn't mean anything going into this year. I think as a team we all just need to find another level."

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