James Neal makes his return to Pittsburgh this afternoon after being made one of the scapegoats for the Penguins playoff failures and dealt to Nashville last summer.
The Neal for Patric Hornqvist/Nick Spaling trade continues to be one that both teams remain thrilled about.
Neal’s numbers are down but the Predators feel for the first time in years they have a player who can a win game for them with one shot.
While Nashville got the better player and most scouts and GM’s would contend that, the Penguins certainly feel they got a different type of player in Hornqvist that will change the dynamic they’ve lacked come playoff time and a different type of personality in the room which Penguins management felt was very important. In Nick Spaling, it’s beneficial for a small market team like Nashville to get rid of an overpriced role player, but there’s been no complaints from the Penguins end as Penguins coaches love his versatility and Evgeni Malkin likes playing with him. However, it remains up for debate whether the Penguins should have nabbed a high draft pick in place of Spaling in the Neal trade and got someone making under $1 million per season to provide what he does.
Hornqvist has 14 goals and 30 points in 36 games, has made his biggest impact on the power play as a net-front presence. At 5 v 5 his numbers have been so-so but the possession numbers are strong and is one of the few players on that team who consistently crashes the net. Hornqvist is averaging 1.59 points/60 5 v 5 with his most common linemates being Sidney Crosby (293:00) and Chris Kunitz (194:00).
Neal has 16 goals and 28 points in 42 games for the Predators. Last season he averaged over a point per game with 61 points (27 goals) in 59 games. 11 of his 27 goals came on the power play and while his power play numbers and assist numbers are down significantly in Nashville, he’s been very effective 5 v 5. Neal is averaging 2.35 Points/60 5 v 5 with his most common linemates being Mike Riberio (406:00) and Filip Forsberg (356:00).
Last season Neal averaged 2.32 points/60 5 v5 with his most common linemates being Jussi Jokinen and Evgeni Malkin.


Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – David Perron
Nick Spaling – Brandon Sutter – Patric Hornqvist
Steve Downie – Max Lapierre – Beau Bennett
Zach Sill – Mark Arcobello – Craig Adams
Simon Despres – Kris Letang
Rob Scuderi – Paul Martin
Derrick Pouliot – Robert Bortuzzo
Marc Andre Fleury