The 2010-11 season ended too soon for Syracuse Crunch forward Kyle Palmieri
. Just as Palmieri was proving himself as the hottest rookie the AHL, it was time to go packing into a long offseason.
It turns out that the abrupt ending may have only been the beginning of something big. And based on Palmieri's hectic previous 12 months, he's needed every deep breath he could draw.
See that "Help Wanted" sign Anaheim has hanging on one of its wing spots? The finally refreshed Palmieri might just have the burst to grab it sooner than most expected.
"There's an opening for a right-handed forward up there," Syracuse assistant general manager Bob Ferguson said in describing Palmieri. "I don't think there's any question he will play in the NHL someday and be a key member of Anaheim."
That was the obvious blueprint when the Ducks took Palmieri in the first round (No. 26) of the 2009 Entry Draft. The revisions have been forced by the resiliency Palmieri has shown navigating the endurance test since then.
Palmieri left Notre Dame after his freshman year to turn pro with Anaheim. He attended his first NHL camp with the Ducks as a 19-year-old last season and was sent to Syracuse -- but was recalled Nov. 3 and scored his first NHL goal that night.
He returned to Syracuse before leaving again to play for the United States in the World Juniors, where he helped Team USA to a bronze medal by tying for the team lead in scoring with six points in six games.
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Palmieri barely had time to unpack from that trip before heading off to Hershey, where he was the Crunch's lone representative at the AHL All-Star Game.
The itinerary was fun but taxing -- and it showed in Palmieri's numbers. He sizzled at the start of the season, producing seven goals in nine games, then slammed into a wall -- managing just seven tallies in 34 games from November through February.
"It was definitely a very long year," Palmieri said. "I've never played anywhere near 80, 85 games in a year. I wasn't used to playing three games a week. I think going back and forth between different things is tough. But it's one of those things you have to deal with."
The feisty Palmieri coped by increasing his aggressiveness. Two of his best attributes are a blistering shot and a refusal to back down from using it.
Palmieri fired home 15 goals in the last 14 games of the AHL season, snaring rookie of the month honors for March. His 29 goals were third most for a rookie in team history, and even though Syracuse missed the playoffs he was recalled for the Ducks' postseason.
"Overall, I was pretty happy with the way I played. Hopefully, I can get better," Palmieri said. "I got pretty lucky at the end of the year."
Ferguson had a different view of how Palmieri evolved.
"For what he went through last season for a 19-year-old, you could easily say it would be overwhelming," Ferguson said. "He experienced last year, in one season, things that some guys don't experience in their entire career. I think what really happened was reality set in for him about being a pro hockey player. The last six weeks of the season, he was allowed to settle down more mentally than physically."
The Ducks have kept the attic door open on Palmieri's ascent this summer. Anaheim is in desperate need of another potential top-six forward after the havoc-wreaking trio of Corey Perry
, Ryan Getzlaf
and Bobby Ryan
. The Ducks haven't been active in free agency this summer, perhaps feeling that Palmieri is the answer.
He's eager to make the jump to the NHL, but isn't counting on landing a job in Anaheim.
"Hopefully, someday I can be there with those guys. You don't want to be slumping after a year," Palmieri said. "Obviously, if there's a spot open in training camp, it will be me competing with a couple of guys. If there's a spot open, I'm going to do my best to get there."
Palmieri didn't have to look far to see what the Ducks expect. At times the example was right in front of him – and next to him as well.
"Obviously, if there's a spot open in training camp, it will be me competing with a couple of guys. If there's a spot open, I'm going to do my best to get there." -- Kyle Palmieri
Anaheim wanted to show the 5-foot-11, 193-pound Palmieri how players on the smaller side can be tough to compete against. So the team gave him videos of Montreal forward Brian Gionta
, a 5-foot-7, 175-pound ball of thorns.
"You just watch him, see how he brings a consistent effort every game," Palmieri said. "You try to work hard, get better every day. I've been working pretty hard this summer."
If Palmieri had any questions for his role model, he got to ask them in person at the Craig Charron
Memorial Classic earlier this month in Rochester. Gionta in the flesh was one of the players who skated in the charity game, along with Palmieri.
"I remember the days when I was a young kid coming into the League, trying to soak up what you can learn from anybody," Gionta said when asked what tip he'd give Palmieri. "The biggest thing in the NHL is you have to anticipate. Things develop very fast out there. You are that step behind, all of a sudden a bigger guy is getting more of his body on you. You have to be ready for anything."
Talk about saucering a pass into Palmieri's wheelhouse.
"He's going to his second pro camp. Now, he's been there," Ferguson said. "He knows what to expect. We're expecting big things from him."