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Nashville Predators 2016-17 Player Report Cards: James Neal

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Taking a closer look at the Real Deal’s final act in gold.

A deadly sniper who will be sorely missed
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Season Overview

A great responsibility weighs upon my shoulders. I must fairly analyze James Neal’s third season in Nashville. As we all know, he was ripped from our roster by that new team out in the desert. It is very tempting to just get emotional about the great memories Neal made in Nashville.

(This is my personal favorite, via 2014)

However, this will be a cold analysis of Neal’s 16-17 campaign, and it was a very James Neal season.

Neal’s quick release can only be matched by Filip Forsberg’s funky release in its ability to find the back of the net regularly. He was a top line fixture in his first two years in Nashville, often playing with Mike Ribeiro. He showed immense chemistry with Ryan Johansen last season, but the emergence of the JOFA line kept Neal firmly entrenched in the middle six this past year. I would consider him one of the strongest middle six forwards in the league.

His seven goals in six games during a stretch in October helped partially right the ship, as the Predators struggled out of the gate. From there, Neal’s goal-scoring became much harder to rely on. Two different goal droughts of seven and nine games a piece highlighted a certain inconsistency that seemed to plague his season. Scoring 23 goals and piling up 41 points are nothing to scoff at, but these numbers are well short of the 31 goals and 58 points of a season ago. And his TOI/game only decreased by one minute.

Plus minus is a questionable statistic, but it is interesting that Neal was an overall minus player for the first time since his time in Dallas, coming in at -10. This number could be a direct result of playing further down the depth chart. However, another factor to consider is his age. At 29, it’s entirely possible that James Neal has lost a step. He certainly has not lost any desire to score goals and win. He looked hungry on nearly every shift I watched him this season. At 29, The “former 40 goal-scorer” (people love to call him that) has definitely reached his ceiling, but I expect him to be one of the stars of a well-rounded (not star-studded or particularly competitive) Vegas roster.

Regular Season: 70 GP, 23 G, 18 A, 41 Pts

Postseason: 22 GP, 6 G, 3 A, 9 Pts

Best Moment of the Year

Ekholm did most of the heavy lifting on this play. He gathers the puck in the corner in order to feed it to Subban, and James Neal does what James Neal does best. Each series is its own saga, and I was getting worried that the Preds were going to become too tired to continue through the playoffs. However, JAMES NEAL- THE REAL DEAL proved me very wrong. When he scored this one to secure Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, it just reinforced this team’s mentality that they could beat anyone, even Getzlaf, Perry, and their goons.

Worst Moment of the Year

This was not a part of the 16-17 season, but Neal’s departure from Nashville was unceremonious, controversial, and mostly painful. Neal was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft on the same day that David Poile was announced the NHL’s GM of the Year.

This tweet really rubbed salt in the fresh wound. Neal truly was a talented shooter who was always open.

Trending Up or Down?

Gone, so I’m going to ignore all those goals he’s going to score in Vegas.

(Editor’s note: Let’s call it even and say he’s trending sideways.)

Grade: B+

Would the Preds have made it to the Stanley Cup Final without the goal production of James Neal? No, not at all. The extremely young JOFA line will need to continue to develop and post higher goal totals in order to compensate for the loss of one of the best pure goal scorers in the history of the Preds. Neal chipped in 23 goals, good for third on the team, and he was one of only three players with over 20 goals (Forsberg, Arvidsson). His goal droughts were tough to watch, but the majority of his goals were absolute snipes. He was a major part of why the Predators have been incredibly fun to watch for the past three years, and he will be sorely missed by the fans and the locker room.

Poll

How would you rate James Neal’s 16-17 season?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    A+
    (3 votes)
  • 8%
    A
    (22 votes)
  • 17%
    A-
    (48 votes)
  • 18%
    B+
    (50 votes)
  • 19%
    B
    (53 votes)
  • 6%
    B-
    (18 votes)
  • 2%
    C+
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    C
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    C-
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    F
    (1 vote)
  • 23%
    I don’t care- I’m just gonna miss the guy
    (64 votes)
273 votes total Vote Now