How Will the Nashville Predators Replace James Neal?
On Wednesday evening history was made in the National Hockey League. After the announcement that the league would expand to 31 teams last year, the Vegas Golden Knights officially joined the NHL at the NHL awards ceremony by announcing their roster. It was an interesting event, to say the least, with some high profile player such as Marc-Andre Fleury and Nashville Predators very own, James Neal joining the expansion team.
Neal, a proven NHL goal scorer in his 600+ games, headlined the Golden Knights forwards and will most certainty be responsible for leading the offensive charge in the desert next season. He will adequately fill this role in Vegas but he will also leave a void in Nashville as well. Over the course of his career, Neal has been known for being a dominant power forward. The 6’2″, 220 found winger has put up impressive numbers over his entire career recording 451 points and 238 goals.
Since joining the Predators in 2014, he has continued to be a key contributor recording two 20 goal seasons. He even cracked the 30 goal marker notching 31 goals just two seasons ago. Last season, in 70 games he recorded 41 points, good enough for sixth on team, and was responsible for 10% of the team’s total goals. He also was a solid contributor on the power play by recording 18 points. Although Neal was not the Predators top offensive producer, his loss will be mean that the team will have less offensive depth. With this in mind, how will the Predators look to fill this offensive void left by his departure?
The Kids Will Step Up
Looking at next season, the Nashville Predators should be able to replace Neal’s offence from players within their organization. Due to some unfortunate injuries in the playoffs, both Colton Sissons and Pontus Aberg took on larger roles. In the Preds-post season run, both players showed that they could be offensive contributors. In 16 playoff games, Aberg contributed 2 goals and 5 points. Now, although these numbers are not that impressive, Aberg did show flashes of the offensive player that he was drafted as.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 1, 2017
Aberg clearly has the offensive skills to be a key NHL contributor and so many believe that in his first full season next year, Aberg could put up some decent numbers. After all, he did record 25 goals and 15 points in the 2015-2016 campaign with the Milwaukee Admirals so he definitely has scoring prowess. Colton Sissons also showed his ability to put the puck in the net during the playoffs. In 22 post season games, Sissons managed to bury six goals, good enough for second most on the Predators. He may not have the same offensive upside as Aberg, but he still should be able to contribute some offence next season if he can replicate his playoff intensity.
Finally, the Predators can hopefully expect Calle Jarnkrok to take another step forward next season. He has managed to increase his out put every year in his career thus far and after getting an added boost of confidence from the Predators by being protected in the expansion draft, don’t expect this pattern to end.
Look to the UFA Market
If the Predators don’t feel that anyone in their roster can make up Neal’s production, there is the potential to sign an unrestricted free agent. Some potential targets for the Predators are Martin Hanzal and Nick Bonino. Not to forget, the Predators still need to extend offers to RFA’s Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson.
With that being said, targeting Nick Bonino or Martin Hanzal would probably make sone sense for the Nashville Predators. With the uncertainty of Mike Fischer’s return, signing Bonino or Hanzal would address the Predators major need by solidifying the team down the middle. Also, both players would come at a reasonable cap hit while still being able to produce offensively. In the Predators choose to take one of these two centremen, Bonino is probably the better option. He may not be quite as offensively gifted but he is younger, faster and has more post season experience. In any case, all three of these players would definitely improve the Nashville Predators from an offensive standpoint.
Trade for Duchene
Finally, maybe the most intriguing way the Nashville Predators could improve their team from an offensive standpoint could be through trade. According to Darren Dreger, the Nashville Predators have expressed their interest in Matt Duchene to the Colorado Avalanche. According to Dreger, this trade is no where close to being done and might not happen if a Joe Sakic wants a defnceman in return.
Nashville is definitely interested in Matt Duchene. However, if trade ask is for a defenceman, the Preds likely aren't a fit by choice.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 22, 2017
In any case, if the Predators are willing to make a push on Duchene by breaking up their top two defence pairings it could be worth it. The 26-year-old is entering the prime of his career and would certainly be a huge addition for the Predators. Over the course of his career he has managed to produce 418 points in 517 games and is one of the games brightest players. Although last year his production tailed off by 18 points, it is expected that his production will bounce right back up next year. Ultimately, if David Poile can pull the trigger on a deal for Duchene, not only would he get a player who would easily replace Neal’s lost production but he would create a dynamic one two punch up that middle. Let’s not forget that Duchene is also on a reasonable $6 million dollar contract for the next two years, giving the Predators some control over him.
In the end, whatever route the Nashville Predators take to replace James Neal’s production, decisions will have to be made shortly as the NHL off-season frenzy has already begun, the draft is tonight and free agency is just around the corner.