ANAHEIM, Calif. — Even now, eight years and two teams later, Kyle Palmieri still looks back at his formative seasons in the NHL with the Ducks with a bit of wonder.
“I had guys to look up to,” Palmieri said before his current team, the Islanders, continued a three-game California swing against the Ducks on Wednesday night at Honda Center looking to snap a two-game losing streak.
The trip opened with a 5-2 loss to the Kings on Tuesday night as the Islanders try to maintain their hold on the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.
“Just right wingers [Corey] Perry and [Teemu] Selanne were two guys in our top six that you can learn a lot from,” Palmieri said. “Two very different players. It was just so cool to be in the locker room with guys like that. Saku [Koivu] and Getzy [Ryan Getzlaf]. It was actually crazy looking back on it, to be a part of that locker room for a little bit.”
The Smithtown product, selected 26th overall in 2009, spent parts of five seasons with the Ducks before being traded in 2015 to the Devils, his other hometown team as he spent much of his childhood in northern New Jersey. Wednesday marked his seventh game back in Anaheim as a visitor and second with the Islanders, who acquired him on April 7, 2021, and subsequently signed him to a four-year, $20 million extension.
Now 32, Palmieri has been part of the Islanders’ top six on a line with center Brock Nelson and left wing Zach Parise and counted upon to help lead the offensive push.
Palmieri entered Wednesday with one assist in his previous four games and 10 goals and 11 assists in 42 games. He missed 27 of 28 games from Nov. 23-Jan. 21 with upper-body injuries.
Parise had gone four games without a point while Nelson had one goal in that span.
Coach Lane Lambert broke up the Parise-Nelson-Palmieri line for Wednesday, inserting Pierre Engvall on left wing (so Engvall-Nelson-Palmieri).
“There’s times when you capitalize on your opportunities,” Lambert said. “I think they’re still getting opportunities. I like what I see from them still. It’s just a matter of them capitalizing on those opportunities.”
The trio combined for four shots against the Kings.
“He’s a dynamic player but also a pretty easy guy to read off of,” Nelson said of Palmieri. “He’s got a great shot, strong body. He’s able to win one-on-one pucks and make little plays. He’s got a little bit of everything.”
But it took some time for Palmieri to establish himself as a full-time NHL player.
He split time between the Ducks and their AHL affiliate — first in Syracuse, then Norfolk — in four of his five seasons with the organization. It wasn’t until he joined the Devils that he played a full 82 games, reaching 30 goals for the only time in his career in 2015-16.
“When you get into a locker room with guys you grew up watching and looking up to, you’re a little shell-shocked and I think sometimes that leaks into the way you play the game,” Palmieri said. “You’re maybe a little more focused on just trying to fit in than really showing who you are.
“You look at guys being called up, they’re there for a reason and the reason is the way you play and the type of player you are. That’s what they’re looking for. That’s something that took me a little bit to figure out and learn in order to get my foot in the door and become an everyday player. It was a long process for me. It was three or four years before I was a constant in the lineup.”