28-Year-Old Right Wing – Nashville Predators
James Neal Contract Information:
Signed a six-year, $30 million contract to remain in Pittsburgh through the 2017-18 season, in February of 2012.
Neal scored his team-leading ninth goal during Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Ducks, giving him a four-game point streak (two goals, three assists).
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RotoWire's Preseason Outlooks
After scoring 88 goals and 178 points with Pittsburgh over the past three seasons, Neal effectively becomes the Predators’ top offensive option this season under new head coach Peter Laviolette. Neal has four years remaining on the six-year, $30 million contract he originally signed with the Pens, which makes him very affordable for the Preds, especially he’s been scoring at roughly a point-per-game clip over the past three seasons. However, from a fantasy perspective, a significant portion of his appeal has been lost now that he will no longer be suiting up with superstars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That said, we still think a 60-point season is well within his reach, so feel free to draft accordingly.
Goals. Neal's goal is to score. Nothing more, nothing less. The winger notched 40 in 80 games two seasons ago and 21 in 40 contests last year. He also led the NHL with 18 power-play markers in 2011-12 and finished tied for third with nine a season ago. Neal missed eight games with a concussion. He also shifted wings to accommodate Jarome Iginla, a move that never really worked out. Neal, who has struggled to score whenever Evgeni Malkin has been out of the lineup, continues to be one of the league's elite snipers.
Neal was one of but four NHL players to pot 40 goals in 2011-12. He clicked with Evgeni Malkin from the get-go, scoring the Pens' first goal of the season off a power-play set up by Geno. His 18 power-play goals led the league while his 81-point total was good for seventh. Factor in 329 shots, 87 penalty minutes as well as 108 hits and it's easy to see why Neal's fantasy value is higher than ever. The power forward had a penchant for streakiness up until last season, but then again, he never had teammates like Malkin and Sidney Crosby to help alleviate those concerns in Dallas. Asking for back-to-back 40 goal seasons might be a little much, but there's no reason not expect another 30-plus tallies from Neal.
Neal hopes to wipe his slate clean heading into 2011-12 after a disastrous mid-season start with Pittsburgh last winter. Always a streaky scorer, Neal picked up 21 goals in 59 games with Dallas before netting just one score in 20 games with the Pens. He's only 24 and is scheduled to play alongside Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin at times. With less pressure on Neal to produce, one can expect a season in which the power forward returns to 25-30 goal production.
Neal followed up a nice rookie campaign with another solid season (27G, 28A), playing on Dallas' top line. He recorded just two tallies with the man advantage after sticking 9 power-play goals as a rookie, so there's room to improve in his third full season. His lack of assists will limit his overall point production, but there's a 30-goal, 60-point season within easy reach.
Neal netted 24 goals in his rookie season despite a brief stint in the minors after making the team out of camp. He led the Stars with nine PPGs, though his play away from the pucks needs refining. A full year under his belt, Neal could approach the 60-point level this season.
Neal graduated from juniors play and had a nice pro debut with 37 points in 62 games. He lead all skaters with nine points in the recently completed Traverse City tournament and enters camp with a chance to win a roster spot with a solid camp. Brenden Morrow, the player Neal if often compared too, made a similiar jump into the NHL.
Neal enters the 2007-08 season as Dallas' best prospect after a sensational year in the Ontario Hockey League. He's a long shot to break camp with the team, but a mid-season promotion to the NHL after a stop in the minors isn't out of the question. The comparisions to Brenden Morrow are good ones when projection what type of player he could become.
Has shown a good nose for the net during his junior career. Figures to graduate to the AHL in a year or two.
Tall and skinny (6'3" and 180 lbs), Neal has the offensive talent to be a power forward in the NHL. He has great character and a great attitude to go along with strong offensive instincts, but his skating could use some help. Still, he managed 44 points in 67 games as a rookie in Plymouth (OHL) and is poised to be an even stronger contributor for the Whalers in 2005-2006.