Most people know and love watching James Neal’s rocket of a shot, along with his general physical play. Both of these aspects of his game are severely lacking throughout the rest of the Penguins’ lineup.
For example, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin possess amazing shots, but some believe they lack the physicality and brute force Neal provides. With the NHL draft just hours away, Neal’s future with the Penguins appears to be in jeopardy. In my opinion, a trade involving Neal made by Penguins’ new general manager Jim Rutherford would be a considerable mistake.
Neal brings many positive attributes to the Penguins’ lineup. He is a potential 40-goal scorer, and Neal also is able to use his 6-foot-2, 208-pound frame to create traffic in front of the net. Additionally, he is one of the leagues’ elite snipers and a powerhouse physical forward.
A complimentary player, such as Neal, needs another viable scoring threat on his line to produce offensively. While playing with Sutter and Jokinen, Neal was the focus of the other team’s defensive efforts. Logically speaking, if you’re the coach of the Rangers, who do you try and shut down? A sniper who is capable of 40-goal seasons, a third-line center that was never put in the position to showcase his skills with the Penguins, or the journeyman who primarily specializes in shootouts?
Often during the Rangers and Penguins series, Neal was physically intimidated. It was apparent that the Rangers did not want him to be a factor in the series and it worked to perfection. Neal was virtually invisible most of the time while Sutter and Jokinen were tearing up the ice. Given the Rangers’ obvious defensive focus on Neal, it is unfair to state that he is a poor playoff performer.
Presently, some fans are enthusiastically requesting that the Penguins trade James Neal. From my end, this is not the best option.
Mike Johnston’s boldest move would be pairing Crosby and Neal. Almost any Penguins’ fan can speak to the chemistry between Malkin and Neal. Many fans also realize that Malkin is independent; he can thrive without Neal or any well-known players on his wings.
Examining Malkin’s play pre-James Neal, game film shows Malkin shooting the puck more than passing it. With Neal on his line, the number of shots Malkin takes has been decreasing annually, as he is more inclined to dish the puck to his good friend Neal. If Johnston were to experiment with Neal and Crosby on the same line, his creativity would supersede Bylsma.
Crosby historically is a player who passes the puck around to his linemates and puts them in the best position for success. Although both of the Penguins’ superstar centers are more than capable of shooting the puck, Crosby is more inclined to spread the shots around.
Neal really isn’t a problem for Pittsburgh. Trading Neal would be a terrible mistake, given his friendly contract for his level of production.
In my opinion, if the new coaching staff utilizes creativity and flexibility with the lineup, the Penguins will be more successful.
The Penguins’ organization – and fans – deserve a more imaginative use of James Neal before Rutherford executes a trade.