Player review: James Neal

May, 11, 2010
5/11/10
8:00
AM CT
Today's player review candidate: James Neal.

[+] EnlargeJames Neal
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireIn his second NHL season, James Neal was second on the Stars in goals and third in points.
Neal, 22, is clearly a winger with high upside. And he showed some of that upside this season, increasing his offensive production from his rookie year.

Neal had 55 points, third on the Stars, including 27 goals. He was just two goals shy of Loui Eriksson for the team lead. Neal finished with a minus-6 and averaged 18:11 of ice time.

The young winger started the season with Brad Richards and Eriksson on the top line. And he finished the season there. But there was also a gap where he wasn't on that line. Why? A big part of it was that line's issues on the road. Neal's defensive game is still a work in progress, and opposing coaches took advantage of it when they had the last line change. Richards and Neal had considerably worse plus/minus stats on the road. Neal was minus-15 away from American Airlines Center and plus-10 at home.

Neal also seemed impacted by a two-game suspension handed down by the NHL earlier in the season for a hit he made against the boards. Neal plays with a physical edge, and that edge seemed to dull a bit after the suspension.

But there's no doubting Neal's ability to score goals. He does a nice job of finding space on the ice and taking advantage of good passes from teammates. He scored 24 goals in 2008-09, so he increased his output this past season.

Neal has a ton of potential. The Stars would like to see more of that physical edge they saw early last season and in his rookie year and an improved defensive game. But he's certainly a good, young player that should only get better.

BTW, Neal will work out with Gary Roberts this summer, according to this blog entry from Mike Heika at DMN. That's a smart move by Neal as Roberts has a history of making players stronger and better thanks to his training regimen.

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