After weeks of speculation, Ken Holland finally convinced the Flames to take Milan Lucic off his hands. Lucic heads to Calgary in exchange for James Neal while the Oilers also give up a conditional 3rd round pick in 2020 and will be retaining 12.5% of Lucic’s contract.
By all accounts Neal has been training extremely hard this off-season and will be coming to camp with his eyes set on a top six spot, likely next to Nugent-Hopkins on the Oilers second line.
Prior to this past season, Neal had scored at least 21 goals in each of his 10 NHL seasons split between the Stars, Penguins, Predators and Golden Knights.
I wanted to see what type of linemates he had during his career so I took a deep dive into the history of James Neal.
2008-09: Rookie season in Dallas
As a rookie, Neal played well over 400 minutes alongside Mike Modano and finished the season with 24 goals in 77 games. Mike Ribeiro and Fabian Brunnstrom were his next most common linemates. This was the only season that Dave Tippett coached Neal in Dallas and it’s nice to see that he was alongside a skilled centre the majority of the season.
2009-10: Second year in Dallas
In his sophomore campaign, Neal took a big step forward scoring 27 goals but also finishing with 55 points, an 18 point improvement over his rookie season. Under Marc Crawford Neal basically spent the entire season playing with Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson, playing over 700 minutes five on five with the pair.
2010-11: Traded midway through the season
Neal was once again locked in with Richards and Eriksson prior to his trade to Pittsburgh. Even though Neal was only in Dallas for 59 games he managed more than 700 minutes with Richards and Eriksson. Prior to the trade deadline, the Stars sent Neal and Matt Niskanen to the Penguins in exchange for Alex Goligoski. It looks like Neal played on a line with Mark Letestu and Alex Kovalev in Pittsburgh and managed to find the back of the net just once in the final 20 games of the season. He still finished with 22 goals on the year.
2011-12: First full season in Pittsburgh
After scoring just once with the Penguins in the previous season Neal exploded in 2011 with 40 goals and 41 assists. So what was the recipe for success? How about 924 minutes alongside Evgeni Malkin. It looks like Chris Kunitz was on the left side for the majority of the season. Only Stamkos, Malkin and Gaborik scored more goals than Neal during the 2011-12 campaign.
2012-13: Lockout shortened season with Pittsburgh
Neal picked up right where he left off during the lockout-shortened season. He was once again riding shotgun with Malkin and scored 21 goals in 40 games played, second on the Penguins behind Kunitz. Neal spent over 300 minutes playing with Malkin that season and it looked like they had become a duo as his next most common linemate was Beau Bennett at just over 100 minutes.
2013-14: Final full season in Pittsburgh
Neal was limited to just 59 games in 2013 but still managed to light it up finding the back of the net 27 times. He actually finished with a career-best in points per game with 61 points in 59 contests. Once again Neal skated alongside Malkin but his most common linemate that season was Jussi Jokinen at just over 521 minutes.
2014-15: First year in Nashville
In late June of 2014, Neal was sent to the Predators in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Neal would hit the 20-goal mark for an 8th consecutive season wrapping up the year with 23 goals in 67 games. He was reunited with Mike Ribeiro in Nashville and spent 625 minutes with him in his first season there. A young Filip Forsberg was his second most common linemate during his first year in Smashville.
2015-16: Second year in Nashville
Neal was moved away from Ribeiro during the 15-16 season spending the majority of his five-on-five time with Ryan Johansen and Calle Jarnkrok. He put together his most impressive season with the Preds finding the back of the net on 31 occasions.
2016-17: Final year in Nashville
Neal finished with 23 goals and 41 points during his third and final season with the Preds. His most common lines mates were once again Jarnkrok and Johansen but he didn’t even play 400 minutes with either of them. The Preds actually had 12 players finish with double digit goal totals in 2017, Neal finished third on the team in scoring behind Forsberg and Arvidsson.
2017-18: Expansion run in Vegas
Neal was claimed in the expansion draft by the Golden Knights and found himself on a line with Erik Haula and David Perron. Neal played over 700 minutes with both Perron and Haula and finished fourth on the Knights in goals with 25. It was the first time he had played over 700 minutes with two teammates since the 2010-11 season in Dallas.
2018-19: One year in Calgary
Last season was an extremely frustrating one for Neal in Calgary. His shooting percentage plummeted and he had a difficult time getting any consistent minutes from Bill Peters. Neal was basically tossed around the line up playing 336 minutes with Mark Janikowski, 247 with Sam Bennett, 158 with Mikael Backlund and 146 with Derek Ryan. He played less than 100 minutes with Sean Monahan.
JAMES MEET RYAN, RYAN MEET JAMES
If Dave Tippett is smart he will put James Neal on Nugent-Hopkins wing for the opening game of the pre-season and leave him there for the majority of the year. I think a Nuge-Neal combo could be successful if they had some speed on the other wing and speed is one thing Holland has attempted to add in the off-season. My way to early prediction, 24 goals for Neal.
Previously by Dustin Nielson:
- Mr. Lucky
- The Wish List: Mid-Summer Edition
- OILERS TOP TEN PROSPECTS: Post-Draft Edition
- The Great, Good, Bad & Ugly of the Broberg Pick
- NHL Draft Day Targets