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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

James Neal: Year-By-Year

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:

    • The Iggy complex

      Haha yea I hope not either. Turned the flames into a top contender out of the West in a few years. Especially happy when you look at the Oilers. 14 years and still rebuilding

      • Ken Holland

        June 3, 2018

        Flames GM Jim Treliving: “This is the type of player we’ve been looking for. We’ve liked him for a long time. He’s been successful for a long time at one of the hardest jobs in hockey, and that’s shooting it in the net… He’s a perennial 20-plus goal scorer every year. He’s an ultracompetitive guy. He’s had playoff success. He’s a big body. He’s played the last game in the league for the last two years in a row. He checks a lot of boxes for us and gives us a lot of options.”

        July 2019

        Milan Lucic is a Flame. That is just hilarious.

  • blobbo

    I’ll leave the predictions to someone else. All I know is that, after a series of safe moves, Holland made a somewhat bold move. He still has a headache but it moved to a different place and isn’t quite as bad.

    If this is the army that goes to war in the fall, I’m content. There will be enough new bodies in new sweaters to make it interesting. I don’t know if I’m willing to predict the season will be exciting.

    • Serious Gord

      Two points:

      1. Was it really that bold a move? It’s not like he traded RNH. These are players well down the roster and problems for their respective teams.

      2. Did he initiate the discussion? Treliving is known to be a 24/7 pitcher/talker with the rest of the league. And he is far more familiar and frustrated with his albatross- Neal – than holland was of Holland. My money’s on treliving approaching holland. Not the other way round. Thus it wasn’t really that bold on Holland’s part.

  • NoBuBlackOPS

    Still blown away the Oilers were able to rid themselves of that contract. Very happy to see the worst contract in hockey move 3 hours south down the QE2.

  • blobbo

    Cowgary fans like to talk about Neal being scratched in a playoff game. Really? They lost that game 5 – 1. Please convince me that Lucic would have intimidated Colorado into giving up five goals.

    Didn’t Little Johnny get as many goals as Neal in that series?

      • Burnward

        Do you want to bet on the guy who had a chance to help a legit championship contender but got all whiny or the guy that got tired of losing over and over and over.

        Also, once Neal gets to about Christmas and the oil are 10 out, you’re going to see something truly frightening and not in the Lucic way.

      • blobbo

        Not really my point. If intimidation is going to save the Flames, they already have Peluso, who fought Lucic to a draw. I keep hearing that Lucic isn’t expected to put up points, he’s just needed to skate around and be scary. They already have that guy. He gets paid minimum wage and can be called up as required.

  • Himynameistaylor

    It’s curious how flames fans were laughing at the Lucic contract but now suddenly he’s a good a good player and better than James meal who has had a better career to date?

    Just curious which hill they’re going to die on because they seem pretty confused as to what the definition of “good” is.

    • blobbo

      I remember having this…erm…”discussion” with a Flames fanboy elsewhere when Neal was signed. I pointed out that the remainder of the Lucic deal was very similar to the new Neal deal. He was bragging about Neal and how awful the Lucic contract was and how the only way out was a painful buyout. I don’t know where that clown is now, hopefully out on the lake in his blow up boat without a life jacket.

  • Hemi

    Reading both Nation’s blogs regarding this trade, it has become obvious for the most part, that the Oil fans are good with the trade and the Flames fans are not. Doesn’t get much easier to grade than that in reference to where us Armchair types sit.

    • The Iggy complex

      Ummm yea most of the flames fans are good with it too. Neal is a slow useless plug who was super whiny all the time. The real winner in the trade is Lucic. He gets out of a perennial bottom feeder and gets too join a cup contender.

  • Ken Holland

    “When Connor saw Steven Stamkos and [James] Neal here a couple of years ago, he said, ‘I can’t ever imagine being that strong and that fit,’” Roberts said. “I told him that if he worked hard enough, he could do it.”

    Neal has been hanging around with Connor McDavid for years at Gary Roberts off-season Ontario group sessions. “I see Connor every day, he’s the best, couldn’t ask for a better captain or guy. Every day he comes in and does his work. Being able to work out with him and skate with him is awesome. If I get a chance to play with him now that would be great, the way he dishes the puck fits my style.” said Neal, who first encountered Roberts’s regimen when he was in high school.

  • Andresito

    Is it too hopeful to say the Oil could actually have 11 or 12 players with 10 plus goals?
    McDavid drai kassian
    Nuge Neil Chiasson
    Granlund Gagner Nygard
    Maybe Khaira… Nurse and Klefbom
    Finally a bit of depth