Okay Pittsburgh, things are finally starting to settle down from this chaotic offseason, and training camp is right around the corner. With the season quickly approaching, many of us are in prediction mode and just anxious to get the season underway. As with many others, I am very fearful of how the Penguins are going to replace the production lost by trading away James Neal. You don’t just replace a former 40-goal scorer with ease. In some cases, teams never replace them. In this case, and more importantly with this team, it is different.
Now, I will admit that Neal most certainly had his moments of exceptional play and remarkable goals. I am also the first to admit that he had just as many bonehead plays as the good ones. When we really look at James Neal, one has to question whether he was just a product of the exceptional talent that he had around him in Pittsburgh. To delve deeper into this dilemma, I decided to take a look at Neal’s career when he was playing for the Dallas Stars. In 214 games, Neal had only 72 goals and a total of 131 points playing for the Stars. Circumvent that with his 175 penalty minutes, and I would have to say that Neal was a very average player while there. Enter Evgeni Malkin. In Neal’s first year playing with Malkin, he scored 40 goals and had 81 points. What an amazing turnaround!
It is not the first time fans in Pittsburgh have seen this. Anyone remember Chris Kunitz playing for the Anaheim Ducks? You probably don’t because he wasn’t very good for them. Put him on a line with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin and all of a sudden he is a first-line winger for the Canadian Olympic team. What about Pascal Dupuis? He was barely able to stay in the lineup while he was playing for Atlanta or Minnesota, but put him on a line with Crosby and he is a perennial 20-goal scorer. There are many other instances of players’ statistics being inflated from being regular line mates of Crosby and Malkin.
I’m not trying to take anything away from the aforementioned players. They still scored those goals and had to get into the right positions to play with Malkin and Crosby. I am in no way, shape, or form saying that it was easy for them to put up points or play with the two superstars, but in terms of NHL jobs, I think being the wing on Crosby or Malkin’s line is probably considered a pretty easy job.
Patric Hornqvist can fill the void left from Neal’s absence. In his past, he has consistently scored more than 20 goals a year playing for a very offensively challenged Nashville team. I’m pretty certain that he wasn’t playing with a player of Crosby or Malkin’s caliber when he was with the Predators. Put him on a line with one of them and one can only imagine the scoring potential he will have. I am sure Hornqvist is chomping at the bit to play with a superstar center, especially after all the underperforming teams he has been on in the past. I have a feeling he is going to take advantage of this opportunity.
I will miss James Neal’s vicious hits and quick-hitting wrist shot, but in terms of productivity, the Penguins will be just fine.
For the latest sports injury news, check out our friends at Sports Injury Alert.