The New York Islanders needed to make a big splash after losing their captain and leading goal scorer, Anders Lee, for the season after he tore his ACL and they did just that on Wednesday night, acquiring Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils.
In return, the Islanders are sending forwards AJ Greer, Mason Jobst, a 2021 first-round draft pick, and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2022 to New Jersey.
“I know what they bring on the ice,” Islanders president and GM Lou Lamoriello, who has worked with both Zajac and Palmieri in his previous position with the Devils, said. “I know who they are as people and how well they’ll fit in the locker room. Chemistry is extremely important. Their experience, their talent, their competitiveness, especially in this division, knowing what they have to go through, brings excitement on our end.”
Palmieri is the headliner of the deal — the 30-year-old providing that left-wing presence to replenish competent depth at the position since the loss of Lee last month.
He has the capability of playing on the first line despite a dip in production this year with eight goals and nine assists in 34 games. However, the Smithtown, NY native has averaged 26 goals per season over the last five years, including 25 in 65 games last year.
Initial expectations would see Palmieri join the first line alongside Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle, eliminating career bottom-sixer Leo Komarov from his relief efforts in the role.
“When I heard that the Islanders could be an option, I couldn’t have been more excited,” Palmieri said. “As the days wore on here, there was a little bit of anxiety in terms of waiting for that call. I got that call tonight and it was really difficult to contain the excitement of joining this team.”
Snagging Zajac bolsters the third line, which had been in flux with a rotation of wingers flanking Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Oliver Wahlstrom.
The 35-year-old center has seven goals and 11 assists in 33 games this season compared to just nine tallies in 69 games last year.
Given Pageau’s versatility, head coach Barry Trotz could flex him to the left-wing spot while allowing Zajac to perform as the third-line center with Wahlstrom on his right-wing.
“It’s a bolt of energy for sure,” Zajac said. “You’re excited to come in this situation and coming to a team that just does things the right way. They know how to win. They’re tough to play against, they’re consistent. It’s exciting to be a part of that group.”
Both Zajac and Palmieri will be unrestricted free agents following this season as the Islanders have clearly stated their intentions of going for it this season. They are currently tied atop the Eastern Division with the Washington Capitals a year removed from making a run to the Eastern Conference Final.
According to Lamoriello, because both players are local, they do not have to quarantine and will take part in the Islanders’ morning skate on Thursday. They will be a game-time decision for that night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers.