Position: Left wing
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 208 lbs
Stat Line: 67 GP, 23 G, 14 A, 37 PTS, +12 +/-, 57 PIM, 71 hits, 30 blocked shots, 18:05 AVG TOI
Playoffs Stat Line: 6 GP, 4 G, 1 A, 5 PTS, 0 +/-, 8 PIM, 21 hits, 4 blocked shots, 20:37 AVG TOI
*Points at Home vs Away: Home – 12 G, 7 A | Away – 11 G, 7 A
*Giveaway/Takeaway Correlation: 31 giveaways, 37 takeaways
Contract Status: 3 years remaining on a 6-year, $30 million contract ($5 million cap hit in 2014-15)
Highlight of the Year: James Neal made an impression in Nashville fairly quickly. In just his seventh game as a Pred, Neal recorded his fifth career hat-trick to help the Predators defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on October 23, 2014. Neal’s hat-trick would be Nashville’s only player to record a hat-trick in 2014-15.
Strengths: Neal was a difference maker for the Predators all season. He is Nashville’s long-awaited sniper. Not only were many of his goals jaw-dropping, but they also came at critical times. His six game-winners tied for the team’s most with Filip Forsberg. Thirteen of his goals came in the third period or overtime. Last summer, Neal was excited about becoming a leader for the Preds. To do so, he had to mature. There was not one sign of Neal being a “dirty player” all year.
Weaknesses: Neal’s on-ice performance varies depending on who he plays with. Alongside Evgeni Malkin with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was a 40-goal-scorer. Although extremely skilled, Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro are not of the same caliber as Malkin, so Neal’s scoring production declined.
What to Expect Next Season: General manager David Poile said in his offseason address he wished Neal would have scored ten more goals last season. Finishing eighth in scoring on the team left an unsatisfying taste in my mouth. Neal will be expected to have rebound year scoring 30 goals and 60 points.
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The Hockey Writers Nashville Predators staff writer Colin Fitts will evaluate the performance of each player on the 2014-15 Predators roster every weekday in alphabetical order. You can follow Colin on Twitter, @FittsTHW.