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.