The Calgary Flames may end up regretting giving up on James Neal after just one season. In fact, they may already regret it. That’s because Neal has had an incredible start to this season, his first with the Oilers.
After being traded to Edmonton for Milan Lucic this summer, all Neal has done is score in each of his first three games with his new club. On Tuesday night, he scored four times. Yes, four times.
Neal, 32, absolutely went off on Long Island, torching the Islanders for a natural hat trick in the first two periods, then adding a fourth goal in the final frame. It’s the first time that Neal has scored four times in a game and it helped power the Oilers to a 5-2 win on the road to improve to 3-0-0 this season.
It’s looking like it may be a major bounce-back year for Neal, who struggled mightily in his lone season with the Flames after signing a big deal with Calgary in free agency. After netting 20-plus goals in each of the first 10 seasons of his career, Neal posted just seven in 63 games for the Flames last year.
That means that Neal produced more than half of his prior season’s goals total on Tuesday night alone. The four-goal performance pushed him to six goals in three games with Edmonton. He didn’t reach six goals until March 29th of last year.
Considering Neal had an uncharacteristically low shooting percentage last season (5.0 percent) and is playing alongside the best player in the world (Connor McDavid) in Edmonton, it’s not exactly a shock that he’s been able to rediscover his scoring touch with the Oilers. However, not many people expected this level of production to start the season. (Nor did many people expect the Oilers to be undefeated.)
Meanwhile, the Flames headed into their game Tuesday night with six goals collectively as a team, and none of them coming from Milan Lucic — the guy Neal was traded for straight-up over the summer. It is worth noting, however, that while Lucic has yet to pick up his first point in Calgary, he has racked up 21 penalty minutes through two games — including a 10-minute misconduct in his Flames debut.
So, yeah, the trade is looking pretty one-sided right about now.
But it’s also worth noting that if Neal hits 21 goals this season, the Flames will receive a third round draft pick from Edmonton as per the conditions of this summer’s trade. At this rate, Neal may trigger that condition by Thanksgiving.