James Neal key to Pittsburgh Penguins offense
Last season was a breakout season for Penguins winger James Neal. Neal potted 40 goals and added 41 assists for 81 points, all of which were career highs. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are going to draw most of the attention from the opposition’s defense anytime they’re on the ice, which makes Neal’s production a must for the Pens. James Neal began his career as a member of the Dallas Stars, getting drafted 33rd overall in the 2005 NHL entry draft. He began his NHL career in 2008 and has never looked back. In his rookie season, Neal burst on the scene and scored 24 goals for the Stars. He scored 27 times for Dallas the next season and had 21 goals in his third season before being dealt to the Penguins in a deal that would see Alex Goligoski leave town.
Neal struggled in his first stint with the Penguins. In his first 20 games with the team he scored only once and seemed to have a difficult time transitioning to the Penguins’ style of play. It was the beginning of the 2011-2012 season that changed everything for Neal. He got off to a hot start and broke out as one of the premier shooters in the league. Neal was very effective for the Pens during even strength and power play situations. He scored 18 times on the man advantage, which was not only good for 1st on the Pittsburgh roster, but also the entire league. He found great chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and spent the majority of the season playing on his wing. Malkin went on to lead the league in points and James Neal’s ability to finish had a lot to do with that. With Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Kris Letang all dressing for Pittsburgh, the Penguins boast an outstanding power play on paper.
James Neal is young (24 years old) and should just continue to get better while he enters his prime. At 6’2” and 208 pounds, he has the size to go along with the skill that made him a 40-goal scorer last season in the NHL. Neal seems to have found his niche in Pittsburgh and should put up big numbers alongside Crosby and Malkin next season. The Penguins opponents cannot just focus on Sid and Gino and will have to plan to stop James Neal as well. If Neal can repeat what he did last season, the Penguins should be sitting near the top of the Eastern conference again come the end of the season.
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