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James Neal: Top 10 Shot In NHL

Even the greenest Vegas hockey fan will tell you they’ve heard of Golden Knights forward James Neal. It could be his 238 regular season goals or his 44 points in 80 playoff games. Or, I’m not afraid to say it, it could’ve been one of the many dirty hits Neal has delivered. He’s a well-known player. In nine seasons the former Star, Penguin and Predator built a strong reputation for offensive and physical firepower.

TSN’s Travis Yost calculated the most effective part of Neal’s game… his shot. High-volume and accurate shooting is why the sniper is among the league’s best.

I told myself after that first practice that I had to become a better shooter or I wouldn’t make it in the league. Since then, I’ve played in hundreds of NHL games and talked to a ton of different goalies. The real secret to scoring goals is all about the release. –James Neal, Players Tribune

I’ll let the TSN analytics guy explain his criteria.

I took data from the last three seasons (minimum 150 shot attempts) and plotted out two items – the number of shots each forward generated per game at 5-on-5, and the net number of goals added above expectations (per-100 shots). It’s the blend that matters. Bring in both volume and shot quality, and this is your true leaderboard – the number of goals a player added above expectations over the last three years. -Travis Yost, TSN

Take a breath. I know, it’s a lot to take it. This chart will help. Even if it doesn’t though, just read the names and realize the letters VGK are next to one of them.

Neal’s 12.44 “goals above expected” is among the NHL’s best lamp-lighters. Yost’s data included quality shots, an important indicator of a player’s offensive efficiency. Patrick Kane‘s 29.9 GAE is insane. Game-changing and unexpected offense is why the Golden Knights likely valued Neal over Colton Sissons, Colin Wilson, or Craig Smith.

One thing to notice is that I’m a left-handed shot playing the right wing here. That might seem like a small thing, but it’s actually a huge deal. I started my career as a left winger, so I was always receiving passes with the puck outside my body, away from the net… whenever I shot the puck on my forehand, the release point was closer to the net. I was a threat at all times, especially on one-timers. I ended up scoring 40 goals the next season. So whenever a guy switches wings, it has a lot of implications for how he plays. -Neal

The best part of Neal’s Players’ Tribune commentary though was definitely his praise of Marc-Andre Fleury‘s chirp game.

The goalies who know how to chirp really start messing with you. Marc-Andre Fleury was amazing at this when I was in Pittsburgh. When he was in the zone, he would be having so much fun. Flower would make a save and you would hear him laughing and chirping at the guy in his French-Canadian accent. He’d do commentary for his own saves. -Neal

I know I’ll hear about Neal’s age and miles. Sure, he’s 29 and played over 630 games. Also, the obvious possibility of a deadline trade involving Neal worries fans. McPhee may cash in on a team overspending for postseason offense. Stats and aggression back-up Neal’s game. And on top of Fleury, Neal chirps too. Let’s email blast the NHL.

Please mic-up the Golden Knights.

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13 Comments

  1. Bent

    I have watched neal for a lot of years and yes he looks great on paper. The thing is he will lose as many games as win. He makes bad decisions that costs the team games. Just look at game 1 SCF where he takes a bad penalty. It definitely added to the loss. There is a reason that Nashville did not offer a 1st round pick to protect him. Even your numbers show he is a great shooter so why not protect him. Its because he is just not worth it. They would of been a lot better off to take Sissons.

    • James

      @Bent
      ‘There is a reason that Nashville did not offer a 1st round pick to protect him.’

      A 1st round pick to protect a 29-year old second line winger is pretty rich.

      ‘They would of been a lot better off to take Sissons.’

      I felt a twinge of pandering to the fanbase. Some fans are more attracted to people with a sexy name.

      I hope we trade James Neal. Nobody’s off-limits at the right price

  2. James

    @Jason Pothier
    ‘Also, the obvious possibility of a deadline trade involving Neal worries fans. McPhee may cash in on a team overspending for postseason offense.’

    Barring a playoff push, I would be disappointed if we didn’t get anything decent in return. A second-round pick at the very least. We passed over some young Nashville talent betting on Neal in a contract year.

    I understand the fans’ frustration – Nobody wants to watch an inferior product, but it’s based on what’s in the best interest of the hockey team. The ultimate goal is to hoist the Stanley Cup, and not just be merely a flash in the pan.

    • Bent

      ‘Barring a playoff push, I would be disappointed if we didn’t get anything decent in return. A second-round pick at the very least. We passed over some young Nashville talent betting on Neal in a contract year.’

      I think if GM GM would of pushed for sissons they would of at least gotten a 2nd round from the preds. With the way he stepped up in the SCF, at 23 years old, he is one of their future star players.

      • James

        @Bent
        ‘I think if GM GM would of pushed for sissons they would of at least gotten a 2nd round from the preds. With the way he stepped up in the SCF, at 23 years old, he is one of their future star players.’

        I think McPhee is betting on Neal in a contract year. Maybe if the stars align, Neal could garner a late first-round pick or a couple of second round picks if we retain salary. It’s certainly a gamble.

        Goals will be hard to come by, Neal certainly helps – I think that the front office tried to put a somewhat watchable product on the ice, at least for the time being – There could be a fire sale at the deadline if things get ugly.

  3. RJ

    SinBin: James Neal is a good player.
    RJ: I like Neal a lot and I hope we keep him long term.
    SinBin: That’s nice, but we are better off trading him for a mid grade prospect.
    Other Knights fans: RJ is wrong and dumb. No good players should be on this team.
    RJ: I think we should at least have some good players.
    SinBin podcast: Damn, why is RJ so negative all the time.

  4. James

    @RJ
    Looking back, what would you do differently?

    James Neal is a good player, but he’s at the tail end of his prime playing on a bad team – If given the option, I would prefer to trade him to a contender rather than watch him score empty calorie goals ….

    • RJ

      In a controlled vacuum where the only thing that matters is improving his chance to possibly win a Cup if everything works out perfect, McPhee is doing the exact correct thing.

      But this team doesnt exist in a vacuum. I DO NOT think winning a cup is the most important thing, I think building a culture of hockey fandom in Las Vegas is the most important thing.

      What would I do different? Nearly everything, but I dont care to go into it here. I dont want to be negative and pessimistic. This is my favorite team. I was born and raised in Las Vegas and I have waited my whole life for this team, so I REALLY WANT TO LOVE THIS TEAM. But I can’t pretend like I don’t fundamentally disagree with virtually every decision the owner has made. I just can’t.

      Really want to hear me rant? Come find me at a SinBin meetup whenever one finally happens. I don’t think anyone wants to hear it here.

  5. James

    @RJ
    ‘In a controlled vacuum where the only thing that matters is improving his chance to possibly win a Cup if everything works out perfect, McPhee is doing the exact correct thing.

    But this team doesnt exist in a vacuum. I DO NOT think winning a cup is the most important thing, I think building a culture of hockey fandom in Las Vegas is the most important thing.’

    I think it’s more about establishing themselves as a perineal playoff contender than winning the Cup. …

    So,. How can we make some noise on the ice? We would have to play the boring 1-3-1 trap to have any chance of winning now with the talent available in the expansion draft and free agency … Then it wouldn’t be long before we would be forced to rebuild due to an ageing roster – Marc Methot etc. Let’s just embrace the pain of losing for a couple of years.

    I have serious reservations as to whether Dollar Bill can turn non-hockey fans into hockey fans. You either love it or hate it! Bungling the name didn’t help.

    • RJ

      I never said it was about winning now, it is about being entertaining now. I think the brand new hockey fan would be quite pleased with a 65-70pt season in which we lose plenty, but compete in almost every game.

      This team that McPhee has built is not that, it is a team designed to lose. I think the 2017 Golden Knights team gets 50 points and I’m being optimistic when I say that. Does Neal, Perron, Marchessault, Fleury etc. get moved by the trade deadline? If so we could be looking down the barrel of a historically poor season. We will be the laughing stock of the league, even as an expansion team. What bothers me is it looks like that is the PLAN!

      THAT is not something someone who has never had skates on and has never seen hockey (average Las Vegan) will keep coming back for. She’ll out $300 for a jersey (only to see that player traded a few months later) take the family to a couple games at $200 a ticket, and watch the team lost 5-0 or 6-2 each time? That is the way to get people really excited about the Raiders.

      This is a hockey team founded in a non-hockey market, by a non-local, named in a way that is completely disconnected from any local significance, with almost no local representation in management, that is designed to lose as much as possible in their first several years. Yet the narrative I keep hearing is that if this team fails, Las Vegans didn’t deserve a team! It is the fan’s fault for not spending their money on a terrible product! My loyalty is to Las Vegas, not to Foley and I’m not going to let that narrative go unchallenged if I can help it.

      • James

        @RJ
        ‘This team that McPhee has built is not that, it is a team designed to lose.’

        How good can we possibly be in year 1? Generally speaking, expansion teams struggle in year 1. McPhee didn’t go ‘balls to the walls’ to win as many games as possible this season – For instance, trading Marc Methot doesn’t make us a better team this season – McPhee has an eye towards the future.

        Let’s wait until there’s a fire sale at the trade deadline before we proclaim that McPhee has built a team designed to lose. I think it could quite possibly happen if things go south. The key to the Buffalo Sabres ‘tank’ was atrocious goaltending. Marc-André Fleury is going to steal some points. The defense isn’t bad either.

  6. James

    @RJ
    My biggest gripe with the expansion draft – Passing over Matt Dumba for a bottom six forward and a prospect. Dumba could have been a big part of the present and future.

    I have no problem with trading older players that are not part of our long-term future. I’m not sure whether Las Vegas would go googoogaga over hockey if we were mediocre instead of bad in our formative years. Hockey is a niche sport; The Raiders will be the hottest ticket in town regardless of how the Golden Knights perform. Football is king.

  7. Heffay702

    Its cool to see vgk on a list already. I’m cool with picking up Neal over the other options available dince jarnkrok was protected. Neal is a good rental for this year to put up some points (since we will likely have some issues with that so early in the build this year). And when the deadline comes up we can get some more picks. I don’t see how there wouldn’t be any demand for him. There will definitely be a contender trying to win now that feels they are one player away. I wouldn’t resign Neal for the price he will likely garner in free agency thoiugh so it’s deadline trade or bust in my mind.

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