Going back to last year, James Neal’s first campaign in Nashville wasn’t his best stuff, but he still put forth a decent effort. His 2014-15 season was spent beside Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro. Knowing that Ribeiro wasn’t likely to repeat his 2014-15 season, Neal was faced with a tougher challenge this year. Mike Fisher spent time injured, Ribeiro played rotten for a good chunk of the year, and Calle Jarnkrok had to play the 1C role for a while too. And when you’re a #1 winger, you need a #1 center.
And before the all-star break, Neal got his wish.
No not a bazooka... a real No. 1 center.
Neal eclipsed the 30 goal mark, and did so with only having a top-line center for half the year. He made the All-Star roster, scored two goals in the All-Star Game, and looked right at home beside Ryan Johansen.
|Season||Goals EV||Goals PP||GW||Assists EV||Assists PP||Shots||Shooting %|
With the coaching staff keeping Filip Forsberg and James Neal on separate lines, the Predators have two legit scoring threats. The fact that Nashville had two players reach the 30 goal mark is not only unique for Nashville, but unique for the current NHL.
Check out how the goals began to flow with more consistency after the Johansen trade. All of the harping we did for a top-line center... that’s why. Neal had some decent numbers beside Ribeiro, but a larger center that drives the net is a much better fit for Neal. We’re seeing the results. That’s not breaking news.
The odd bit about Neal’s year: he spent a lot of time beside Jarnkrok. Jarnkrok doesn’t attract all the attention in the world on the ice as of right now, but his positioning made him a good linemate for Neal. Neal is successful when he has space to shoot, hence our glee when the Johansen trade happened.
Best Moment of the Season
We have three choices. Neal deserves three. Rules are arbitrary.
Yes, that’s indeed a hat trick. It was also against an iffy goalie. But hey, three goals. Then you have this:
Brother had himself a good weekend.
Then, you have this soul-cleansing goal & celebration.
We don’t get to the play with Neal and Colin Wilson aiding Mike Fisher for the game winning goal without this moment. And the Preds likely don’t even make it to this point without James Neal’s play in 2015-16.
Worst Moment of the Season
decides he's comfortable and doesn't wanna move pic.twitter.com/Du88bBzsNS— Stephanie (@myregularface) March 30, 2016
Trending Up or Down?
Trending up. For all the praise, he turned in a similar effort from last year and managed to stay healthy. He also gelled well with Johansen during the regular season, and Fisher during the postseason. There’s a lot to like in his game, and there’s not much to criticize about a player who scored 30 goals, played a very strong two-way game, and gave us some very clutch hockey moments. And to top it off, his possession stats were good and his penalty minutes were down from last year. This is a player in his prime. Enjoy it!
FINAL GRADE: A
The entire OTF staff will put their thoughts together and voice their opinions on player grades at the conclusion of this series of articles.