The Nashville Predators opted to expose James Neal in the 2017 Expansion Draft. Fans have been especially critical of Calle Järnkrok, who was protected instead.
Full disclosure: I was in favor of exposing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights. I realize that puts me in the crosshairs of a lot of Nashville Predators fans. Bear with me though, I’m not trying to criticize or be condescending toward anyone. My goal is simple: to explain that Calle Järnkrok is at least as valuable to this roster as James Neal might have been.
To be honest, I don’t really like making this comparison; the two players differ in age, position, size, and just about everything else. But, it’s a comparison that fans seem interested in making, so I’ll indulge.
Mine is a tough position to be in, right off the bat. This season, Neal has produced twice as many points as Järnkrok. Neal is the major headline in Vegas this season; the 30-year old winger has been a scoring machine. Järnkrok, meanwhile, is being tossed around between lines, and has yet to put up big numbers on a score sheet. However, the comparison is far from as black-and-white as the point totals suggest.
Note: all statistics presented are correct as of Nov. 8, 2017.
The first, and easiest, caveat to identify with Neal’s performance is the issue of sustainability. Currently, his even-strength shooting percentage tells the tale. Shooting percentage is simply the ratio of shots taken to goals scored. A team’s average percentage throughout a season is usually about 10%. Even the hottest forwards struggle to maintain anything over 15% through 82 games.
So far, James Neal boasts an even-strength shooting percentage of 17.95%. It’s easy to look at Vegas highlights and think, man, we really messed up letting this guy walk. Here’s a guarantee that I’m comfortable making, though: he will not have anywhere close to that percentage come April. In other words, his current trajectory is entirely unsustainable.
Calle Järnkrok has been a regular member of the Nashville Predators’ roster since 2014 (he only played twelve NHL games during the 2013-14 season). During that time, his even-strength shooting percentage has been comparable to Neal’s, although admittedly lower. Through 15 games, his 2017-18 even-strength shooting percentage is 14.29%. To be fair, that will decrease as well. Here’s a look at each player’s even-strength shooting percentages throughout their NHL career:
I really want you to focus on the 17-18 values. There is simply not a precedent in existence that suggests Neal can sustain such a high shooting percentage. At the end of this season, I fully anticipate their even-strength shooting percentages to be within 2% of one another.