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Preds Previews: James Neal

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators traded for James Neal at the 2014 NHL Draft with the expectation he would fill the net with regularity. Now coming off his second season with the club, a campaign that saw him tally on 31 occasions, the second-highest total of his eight-year career, Neal continues to show why he’s earned the reputation as an elite goal scorer around the League.

Soon to be 29, the Preds assistant captain had one of his top showings in 2015-16, finishing second on the team in goals and third in points with 58, behind only Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi. Neal also finished the season with a team-leading plus-27 rating. He then added another four goals and eight points in 14 postseason contests.

Neal, whose offensive capabilities are just as impressive as his game-day attire, has also endeared himself to the Nashville community. In a few weeks, he’ll again host the James Neal Hockey Clinic at Ford Ice Center, which benefits Make-A-Wish of Middle Tennessee. There, he’ll teach youth hockey players how to find the back of the net, before doing it himself come October.

“Nealer is coming off his best season, as far as the two in Nashville; we felt that he provided great leadership for us both on and off the ice,” Preds Assistant Coach Kevin McCarthy said. “He got his scoring touch back, and he was where he should be in the 30 to 40 goal range, and he’s a guy that just gets better and better with age.”

By entering into that 30-goal range, Neal, along with Forsberg, combined to mark only the second time the Preds have had two, 30-goal scorers in a single season. And with Neal hitting at least the 20-goal mark in all eight of his NHL seasons thus far, he’s proven his knack for consistency when it comes to depositing the biscuit.

With Ryan Johansen centering Neal’s line, a combination that saw success last season and figures to get a shot once more in 2016-17, there’s reason to believe Neal will continue his goal-scoring streak, all while extending Nashville’s playoff appearance run to a third consecutive season.

“He’s a guy who is a big part of our power play, and we expect him to continue to be that player – a top winger for us and a top-line guy,” McCarthy said. “We know he can put up the points that he does and become that great, 200-foot player that we expect. He’s a power forward type of guy, and that’s the way he has to play to be effective.”

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