Let's face it: James Neal has feasted on opponents when healthy for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Just ask his fantasy owners. They're thankful to have him along for the ride this holiday season.
Neal continued his recent surge with his fifth-consecutive multi-point game Wednesday, adding a season-high 10 shots on goal in Pittsburgh's 6-5 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Despite missing 15 games due to injury, James Neal is thriving alongside Evgeni Malkin and in position to finish as a top-20 overall fantasy asset. (Photo: NHLI via Getty Images)
With six goals (two on power play), five assists, four penalty minutes and 29 shots during his hot stretch, Neal is beginning to remind fantasy owners of how explosive he and Evgeni Malkin can be in each other's company.
Malkin has also seen a resurgence in his game since Neal returned on Nov. 9. The guy they call "Geno" in Pittsburgh has assisted on six of Neal's seven goals this season and has recorded at least a point in 12 of 13 games this month.
In addition to his even-strength role, we're all well aware of anyone's value on the Penguins' first power-play unit. Neal's seven power-play points in 11 games this season and 30 PPPs in 2011-12 stand as evidence.
Staying healthy is the only question facing Neal's fantasy value at this point, as he's already missed a 15-game chunk this season because of an upper-body injury. He's played 51 of a possible 74 regular-season games since the start of 2012-13.
But despite missing some time over the past three seasons, Neal only trails Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares and Phil Kessel with 68 goals. During that 131-game span, he has 131 points. That output speaks for itself.
The 26-year-old Neal was taken with the 28th pick in NHL.com's mock draft in September and was slotted as the top left-wing eligible player in my preseason overall rankings. His Yahoo average draft position was 27.8, meaning anyone who bought low on him via trade during his time missed to injury is in position to score big moving forward.
Neal's career started in Dallas, where he compiled 20-plus goals, 50-plus PIMs and 150-plus shots in each of his first three seasons with the Stars. He got off to a slow start (six points, 52 shots in 20 games) after being traded to Pittsburgh in February of 2011, but his game clicked into high gear in time for the 2011-12 campaign.
He hasn't looked back since. Neal was the only player League-wide to record 80-plus points and 80-plus PIMs that season.
He's a balanced scorer with dual-eligibility (LW/RW) and world-class players around him. We've seen how this situation has turned out before from a fantasy standpoint. His numbers are back up to speed, so Neal remains in position to finish the season as a top-20 overall fantasy asset.