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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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:

  • Serious Gord

    A swapping of anchors. Or albatrosses. Or bad girlfriends. Etc.

    Both have potential to turn their games around. I think it more likely woth Neal. Watched him a few times last year and he seemed to have the skills and enough speed but he disappeared for some reason (when he was with Vegas he was one of the most identifiable players on the ice).

    Guess we will have to wait and see. At the very least if Neal remains a bust we will have someone new to hate. But because he comes with such low expectations (Dustin Nielsen and a few others who have lost their senses being notable exceptions) the sting of his awfulness will be less of a disappointment.

    • The Iggy complex

      Lol you actually come in here with common sense and a realistic view of the trade and get trashed. Well I guess let Oilers fans have a bit of excitement. Off season is only time they get any

      • Yeah that would be terrible if he didn’t pan out. Oh wait, you can actually get cap relief if you buy this contract out.
        The only way this is our loss is if lucic scores the Stanley cup winning goal. Might as well chalk this one up in the loss column where it belongs.

  • Bond 0097

    Ken Holland is waaayyyyy out front for GM of the year with this trade. This is a deal that will be remembered as the catalyst for the Oilers ascension up the standings. The stumbling blocks have been removed and we are now in business, now Jesse can come back and turn into the player he should be also.

  • Bond 0097

    Lucy dragged down everyones production around him, hell even McDavids numbers dropped with him, let alone poor Jesse. Lucy was a HUGE impediment to the development of our young guys forced to play with him, he will look great dragging Cowtown down, and they took our worst goalie too, what are they smoking down there? BAHAHAHA

  • Towers-of-dub

    Hopefully when on of these ON reporters gets the chance to interview Neal they’ll ask the hard questions regarding the stories about him being a problem in the room.

      • Leichs

        As Neal stated himself, going into two deep June playoff runs two years in a row hurt his summer training last year. He is with McD and Roberts right now. Im not even a little bit concerned with this.

    • Oil Vice

      Probably not. The NHL is very different from the NBA or NFL in that respect. While there’s bound to be players that don’t get along, the media doesn’t generally push those stories when it comes to hockey. It wouldn’t be good to grill a new player, who’s trying to start fresh, about him not fitting in with his old team. More likely they’ll ask him about his chemistry with Connor as they’ve trained together and how much he’s looking forward to a fresh start.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        I dont care whether you are in teh NHL or some guy on a job, when you work with other people, there are people you gel with, people you are okay with and others you see em at work but you wouldnt spend 5 minutes with them when work is done. The NHL is no different Look at hwne Kane was in Winnipeg and the stuff that went on there. Whne you have people that are expected to perform and they are being paid well for it, the pressure is going to be on and your definitely going to have some guys who think they are better than the next guy.

        Hopefully Neal will have taken the situation with the Value Villagers to heart and realizes that attitude could be a serious knock on his career and success can come and go he only has so many years left in the league and he doesnt want to be that guy getting kicked from place to place because his attitude sucks, that could end up spelling an ending to his career a lot sooner than he’d like.

        Hopefully both Looch and Neal make the most of their new teams and have some success, guess we will know when the season gets going

  • kormega

    I know trade looks papergood.

    But Looch in lames jersey after three years Oiler… bad dream, better off take picks from some desert teams. Lucic is a Flame now. Damn.

      • If lucic is getting the kind of minutes that would require that, I’d be blown away. But then again I was also blown away he was traded for a roster player period; let alone a player with an actual history of potential.
        Also there is no way outta that contract when you realize he falls well short of your projected 70 at least Neal’s contract has a rip cord. None the less I’m sure Connor can bank 40 pucks off him where lucic would still be skating into the zone.
        … better cast? I’d argue lucic played more minutes with nicer players than Neal.
        This trade might be you losing a problem player, but this is the OILERS problem player on a much worse team on a much worse contract signed by probably one of the worse gms of all time, what you’ll soon be calling brado when you gotta protect lucic when a player you want to keep goes to Seattle and his magic 230lbs doesn’t get you outta the first round magically.
        Great comment though.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    I’m in the minority but I am personally saddened to see Looch go. I felt he was a key catalyst in changing the culture on this team that nearly won the division in 2017 and almost ousted the Ducks later in the playoffs. Felt he was an excellent calming influence with this club and brought a lot of intangibles.

    I’m sorry his 2018 season went off the charts bad after Christmas because I think it weighed on him heavily.

    Always struck me as a good dude. Wish he went anywhere else because I wish nothing but the best for the guy.

    But this trade might help the Oilers.

    • Serious Gord

      Looking back At the 2017 season it is clear Lucic was already in steep decline. His in effectiveness 5v5 was nil. Only in the slower pace/less space pressure of the power play did he still contribute.

      And his truculence also was far weaker.

      This all culminated / hit bottom in game six versus Anaheim when he was the worst player on the ice – costing the team the game. The oil paid him big bucks and term to deliver above and beyond in just such a game and he completely crapped the bed.

      And far from being a calming influence his moroseness was a drag on the entire team.

      Glad to see the back of him. I hope he realizes how much of a screw-up he was in the last couple years (going back to his last season in Boston) and manages to resurrect the next couple seasons rather than continuing to be a stumbling circus bear on skates.

    • CMG30

      The Oilers made the 2017 playoffs by riding on Talbot’s back after he posted an outstanding season. He was never able to regain that consistency and thus the Oilers have never been back to the playoffs. Looch had very little to do with it. In fact, if you look at the way he would ream out JP on the bench through the years, he was probably a bigger culture problem than a contributor…

    • The future never comes

      You cannot lead in the room if you cannot lead with your play on the ice. How was he suppose to lead when he handled the puck like a grenade? If you’re at work and the person with the least amount of skill and talent is trying to lead and rara people, they would not be taken seriously.