Nashville Predators: Will Colin Wilson and James Neal Be Missed?

The Nashville Predators made a few key changes during the offseason. Did they get worse? Will they miss James Neal and Colin Wilson?

Free agency and the expansion draft took away seventy-six points from the Nashville Predators during the offseason. Colin Wilson and James Neal were core pieces of the Nashville Predators for years, but that era is over.

As Wilson and Neal were on their way out, players like Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev, and Pontus Aberg are on their way in. The free agency additions of Scott Hartnell and Nick Bonino will also soften the blow of Neal and Wilson. All in all, will the Predators miss what Neal and Wilson brought to the team?

Big shoes to fill

James Neal is a true power forward in every sense of the word. He amassed twenty-three goals and forty-one points in seventy games while bringing a physical edge. Sometimes that edge brought scrutiny and well deserved penalty minutes, but Neal played well for the Predators. He never scored less than twenty goals in his three seasons while also posting positive possession stats. He posted a fifty-one percent Fenwick score in his final season, all the while shooting below his average shooting percentage.

An interesting stat is that even though Neal didn’t generate shots at a second line level, he scored at an above first line rate. Neal was known for scoring goals and making hits, and he brought that in spades to the Predators.

Colin Wilson can best be described as Craig Smith lite, who can best be described as James Neal lite. Wilson potted twelve goals and thirty-five points in seventy games, fine stats for what the style he played. Wilson will mostly be missed on the power play. He had great vision and used it to create many plays for line mates. Also, I’d be remiss to not mention how incredible Wilson could be in the playoffs. Although he was inconsistent this last year, Wilson still is a decent player.

Need replaced?

Absolutely. Again, the Nashville Predators didn’t just replace Neal and Wilson in free agency. Allowing Neal and Wilson to leave opened up space for younger and deserving players as well. Aberg,  Fiala, Bonino, and Hartnell will come in and replace Neal and Wilson almost immediately.

Hartnell should be able to replace Wilson’s offense on the third line. Pontus Aberg will also minimize the pain by most likely netting somewhere around fifteen or more goals. The sad fact is, in my opinion, that Wilson would likely have been bumped down the depth chart. Especially when Colton Sissons, Austin Watson, and Frederick Gaudreau are all cheaper options.

Losing Neal stings quite a bit. He was an extremely useful scoring winger on the power play and even strength. Neal walking away in the expansion draft opens up a prime spot for Kevin Fiala to reach his full potential. Fiala needs to develop in the left-wing spot with some prime minutes, and he never could have done that with Neal around.

Better now or nah?

Yes. One hundred per cent. Hartnell and Aberg will be better third liners than Wilson could be. And there are cheaper options on the fourth line that may not be better offensively, but are more consistent. Losing Neal will hurt in a leadership role, but there are other leaders ready to step up. The Nashville Predators, even after losing two big contributors, are a in a better place now than they were two months ago.

A team who loses a core component doesn’t usually come back better. But the Nashville Predators have done it through player development and key free agent pick ups.