By Steve Lichtenstein
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Lucky for the Devils that Kyle Palmieri continues to be one of the most underrated players in the NHL.

New Jersey general manager Ray Shero has now crossed off his two most pressing items on his summer to-do list after the team announced Thursday that it has re-signed Palmieri, its most valuable forward from last season, to a five-year contract.

Previously this offseason, Shero acquired the proven goal scorer he so desperately needed when he traded for Edmonton’s Taylor Hall.

The Palmieri signing wasn’t so surprising given the New Jersey-bred player’s stated preference for staying home. However, despite his restricted free agent status, the alternatives couldn’t be totally ruled out — especially in this offseason that featured a dearth of top talent after Steven Stamkos re-upped with Tampa Bay — until Palmieri filed for arbitration Tuesday.

Palmieri’s decision to file allowed Shero to focus on the new contract’s term in the negotiations. With the five-year deal, Shero has the 25-year-old Palmieri locked up for three unrestricted free agent seasons while in his prime.

All for a very affordable $4.65 million average annual value.

That’s some bargain for a player coming off a 30-goal, 57-point campaign, the best on the team.

For comparison purposes, New York Post columnist Larry Brooks predicted Tuesday that 21-goal scorer Chris Kreider, who is the same age as Palmieri, would cost the Rangers at least $5 million per year for a long-term contract.

And Kreider is no way near the two-way player Palmieri has become.

Palmieri plays in all situations. Though listed at 5 feet, 11 inches and 195 pounds, he is a willing bodychecker and will fight for loose pucks in the hard areas around the net. No one has ever questioned his motor.

It’s Palmieri’s ability to put the puck in the net, though, that pays his bills.

The Devils — last in the league in even-strength goals — had the ninth-most proficient power play last season. Coach John Hynes had Palmieri play the Alex Ovechkin role, setting up near the left circle for one-timers — his 11 power play goals ranked 15th in the league, and he also contributed 12 assists in man-advantage situations.

He can skate, he can shoot, and he is conscientious in his own end.

Strange how the rest of the league hasn’t figured that out.

All it took for Shero to obtain Palmieri from Anaheim a year ago was a pair of draft picks. Even after his stellar year, Palmieri was omitted from Team USA’s roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. He was rarely mentioned as an oversight.

On top of their status as a national TV ratings death knell, the Devils are used to being the third wheel in the metropolitan area. Unless they win the Stanley Cup, the New York media largely ignores them.

When Lou Lamoriello ran the organization for 28 years until Shero took over last summer, he was known for his disdain of star promotion. He felt it could harm his team-first philosophy, with the side benefit of keeping players’ egos in check should they desire to earn more money.

Now that Palmieri will be a Devil until 2021, the franchise should make sure every kid who plays youth hockey in this state owns his No. 21 jersey.

According to a December profile by Dave Caldwell in The New York Times, Palmieri grew up playing hockey on a makeshift rink his father built on the family farm in Montvale. He played for the Devils’ sponsored youth teams based in Codey Arena in West Orange before leading St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City to the state finals in his sophomore year of high school.

Palmieri then was invited to join the United States National Development Program based in Michigan, where he completed high school and enrolled at Notre Dame. He was selected by the Ducks in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and made his debut the following season.

He’s the homegrown kid who has made good in his home state. More people should know about him.

Except if they did, maybe he wouldn’t be here.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1


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