As important as the interview portion of the 2009 Scouting Combine was for all the players invited to Toronto, it's likely none faced as much grilling as Kyle Palmieri
The forward had his season ended prematurely when he was ejected from the U.S. National Team Development Program for a violation of team rules in February during the Five Nations Tournament in Sweden.
"There's no doubt I would have liked to finish (the season) a little differently, but I had a lot of fun this year," Palmieri told NHL.com. "I got a lot of new experiences, playing almost a full college schedule. I learned a lot from my coaches and my teammates, and think I really developed as a player."
NHL Central Scouting certainly agreed, as his 15 goals and 30 points in 33 games earned him the No. 20 spot in their final ranking of North American skaters for the 2009 Entry Draft.
"I think Kyle's got a little bit of Chris Drury
in him," said Central Scouting's Jack Barzee. "I just look at his passion, his natural skills and his tenaciousness, and that's what I saw in Chris. 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."
All those attributes, though, were clouded by his off-ice transgression. Rather than hide from them, though, Palmieri relished his opportunity to get his side of the story across to the teams with which he spoke.
"I was going into all my interviews thinking that I wanted to get the truth out there," said Palmieri. "Whether they (teams) thought it was a big deal or not was up to them to decide.
"I didn't break any laws, just broke a team rule, which wasn't a good decision and I paid the consequences for that. I think the teams that I talked to, they really understood the situation and that it was a mistake and that I've grown from it. … Once they understood the real story and the truth about what happened and cleared all the rumors and cleared the air, they didn't see it as a question of my character at all. They see that I grew from it and that it was a learning experience."
One Eastern Conference scouting director said it was good to hear Palmieri tell his version of what happened.
"There's always two sides to the story, so you need to do your homework," the scout said. "If you get to the bottom of the thing you'll find a little different side of the story than what's out there."
The side of the story most teams are concerned with happens on the ice. The 5-foot-10, 191-pounder played center and right wing with the USNTDP. He had a shootout-deciding goal and the game-winning goal in the championship game of the Four Nations Tournament in Finland in November, and he had 3 goals and 2 assists in the Five Nations Tournament, which the U.S. also won.
That event, though, was Palmieri's last action.
Palmieri could have gone home to Montvale, N.J., but instead remained in Michigan, where he finished high school and tried to see his teammates as much as possible.
"The program gave me the option of what I wanted to do, where I wanted to finish school," Palmieri said. "I couldn't leave my teammates like that. The relationship we've had the last two years has been so strong and I didn't want to say goodbye then; it's even tough saying goodbye now (he'll play at Notre Dame in the fall). I'm just glad I stayed out there. I just wanted to make sure I left things with my teammates the way I wanted to."
"I think Kyle's got a little bit of Chris Drury in him. I just look at his passion, his natural skills and his tenaciousness, and that's what I saw in Chris. 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."
-- Jack Barzee
Palmieri's dismissal wasn't easy for a close-knit U.S. team.
"It was an emotional time," USNTDP teammate Chris Brown
told NHL.com. "It was a little stressful for the team because he's such a good guy, everybody really liked him. He was a great player, too."
Palmieri worked with a personal trainer in Novi, Mich., about a half-hour northeast of the program's Ann Arbor location. As hard as his workouts were, missing games and dealing with his expulsion from the national team was even harder.
"I definitely questioned why what happened, happened, and what it meant that I couldn't play a game the entire month of March and April and all through the summer," said Palmieri. "But I think it's going to make me want to play even more and increase my work ethic to show that this experience I've been through has made a positive effect on me and made me a better player and person."
Palmieri was missed off the ice as much as he was on it.
"I think he was the best all-round player we had on our team," said Brown, ranked No. 30 for the draft by Central Scouting. "He could be put up there in any situation, play any role. He's a very strong kid, he's a very good skater, got a very good shot, great vision, and most of all he was a leader in our locker room. If you ever had a problem with anything inside hockey or outside, you could go to Kyle and he'd give you his honest opinion. You might not like it all the time, but everyone respects what he has to say."
Teams also liked what Palmieri had to say, but how he performed on the ice will determine where and when he's picked at the draft.
"At the end of the day, what you see on the ice is the product you're getting," said the Eastern team's scouting director. "Teams have to do their due diligence when they're doing homework on the guy because I think it will clear it up a little bit."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.