The past two summers have been career-changing for New Jersey Devils forward Kyle Palmieri.
Palmieri was traded by the Anaheim Ducks to the New Jersey Devils on June 27, 2015, a move which brought him back to the state where he grew up skating on a rink his father had built on the family farm in Montvale, N.J. In his first season with the Devils, Palmieri played a regular top-six role for the first time in his NHL career and set career-highs with 30 goals, 27 assists and 57 points.
On July 7, Palmieri signed a five-year, $23.25 million contract with the Devils. Nearly two weeks later, he received an unexpected invitation to play for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in Toronto. He'll replace Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan, who had hip surgery in June.
The World Cup will be played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1. All games will be televised on ESPN in the United States and Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.
As pleased as Palmieri is with how things have developed, he's far from satisfied. He's hoping last season's success will lead to bigger things this season.
"As far as confidence level goes, now there's no excuse," he said. "I know I'm capable of it and I have to try to build off of it. I think for me, it's a little bit of an advantage playing in the World Cup because I'll be ready to hit the ground running once I get back into Jersey."
Video: Team USA adds Kyle Palmieri to World Cup roster
First, Palmieri will head to Nationwide Arena in Columbus for Team USA training camp, which opens Sept. 5. It's a place he didn't think he'd be going after he wasn't among the final seven players named to the roster May 27.
But Callahan's injury opened a spot, and Palmieri was named added to Team USA on July 20.
"After they announced [the roster] and I didn't make it, not that I forgot about it, but I kind of put it aside and set my focus on training camp," Palmieri said. "Then you get a call kind of out of the blue and all of a sudden you're on the team. It was surprising, but at the same time I was thrilled to get that opportunity, and hopefully I can do my best to help our team try to win it."
Palmieri has strong ties to USA Hockey. He was part of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program and played for the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2010 in Saskatchewan and in 2011 in Buffalo, and at the 2012 IIHF World Championship in Finland and Sweden.
He said he expects the intensity at the World Cup to surpass those tournaments.
"If you look at it being in Toronto and this tournament not having anything that waters it down as far as countries that are a little less competitive at the NHL level, it's going to be a really hard tournament to win in a city where hockey is the No. 1 thing," he said. "So it's going to be pretty exciting to get up there and get the tournament started. I'll be able to draw off a couple experiences I had playing in World Juniors in Canada, and then again in Buffalo. I think it will be that on another level. But at the same time, I know how passionate U.S. and Canadian hockey fans are with international play."
Palmieri is even more excited about the Devils' chances this season. They were in contention for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot until going 9-14-1 in their final 24 games.
He said New Jersey is ready to take the next step this season because of some key additions, including forwards Taylor Hall, Vernon Fiddler and Beau Bennett, and defenseman Ben Lovejoy, plus promising prospects forward Pavel Zacha and defenseman Steven Santini. Acquiring Hall, who had 26 goals and 65 points last season, in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Adam Larsson should boost a team that was 30th in the NHL with an average of 2.22 goals per game.
Video: TOR@NJD: Palmieri finds the empty net for 30th goal
"Some of the moves this summer make us a different team as far as what our strengths are," Palmieri said. "Last year we struggled a little bit to score goals, but after adding a guy like Hall and some of the other pieces, hopefully the offense comes a little more natural for us and we can give our defense a little more of a rest as far as goal support. That's exciting for me as an offensive player. It will be something that, going into every night, you're not expecting one or two goals. Now you're looking at more three or four and it takes the pressure off [goaltender Cory Schneider] and our [defense] corps."
Palmieri also said he's looking forward to being part of what the Devils are building for the future. Although there never appeared to be any doubt that the Devils would sign him as a restricted free agent, he said he was glad to avoid salary arbitration and gain some long-term security in the process.
"During the negotiations I did a couple of interviews and made a couple of statements saying I wasn't worried at all about it, but obviously in the back of your head you never know with arbitration," Palmieri said. "Say I'm coming out of that arbitration with a one-year deal, it makes your outlook on the year a lot different and you put some added pressure on yourself going into a contract year. So right now my only focus is on just improving on last year and trying to help our team get into the playoffs."