When looking ahead at the 2013 NHL season, there’s a few fall-back predictions you can be safe with. Steven Stamkos will score like a mofo, Evgeni Malkin will be nasty-good, etc. etc. Beyond the givens, there’s a host of talented forwards that seem ready to break out, but as we know, not everyone finds a way to get to that next level. Chances are if you’ve got a favourite team, you’ve got a guy in mind who’s about to “make that big step,” and for some teams, they’ve got a guy who’s made that step before that they’d like to see keep up the pace.
I’ve got my own list of guys from around the league that I could see stepping into the limelight as premier, top-end scorers, and for a few of them, who knows, the ceiling might actually be top-5, top-3 in NHL scoring this season. The following is that list of guys who I think are going to have huge years, aside from names like Crosby/Malkin/Giroux/Stamkos.
Here we go, in no particular order:
James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins
Vitals: 6’2″, 210, 25 years old
2011-12: 80 games played, 40 goals and 41 assists for 81 points
Neal was one of only two players in the National Hockey League last season to hit both the 40 goal plateau and grab 40 assists along the way. The other was Evgeni Malkin (the only other two players to hit 40 goals were Steven Stamkos – pff, 40, he says – and Marian Gaborik, both of whom failed to accumulate 40 assists). Obviously playing with Malkin helped Neal’s numbers, but just a reminder, Malkin didn’t die during the lockout, so he’s going to be around this season as well. With Neal’s ability to finish, and his recent relocation to being back-door sneaky on a powerplay with Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Kunitz, and I can see him being a point-per-game guy again this season.
By the way, here’s an article that implies it’s stupid to have Neal “shoving” the puck towards the net on the PP from the back-door, asking “But where is evidence that Neal can finish those off?”, to which I offer the first goal in this package. (I like the third one just a touch too.)