It’s just a preseason game, but it still matters when it comes to the future of forward James Neal. Neal is in St. Louis on a PTO and trying to show the rest of the NHL that he’s still got a lot of good hockey left in him. He’s off to a good start with a hat trick during the first preseason game of the Blues’ 2021-22 season.
Neal knows how to score goals. An inability to still do so wasn’t why the Edmonton Oilers bought out his contract this summer. His high salary and the Oilers’ need to make changes to their forward depth is what led to the two sides parting ways. After the split, the Oilers added a ton of pieces, while Neal was left to land a spot on an NHL roster and with no contract offers, a PTO was his only option.
After his three goals on Saturday, Neal spoke with the media and confirmed that he was offered a few PTOs and chose the Blues. He said he liked the organization and how they run things. “This is a good team, this a good culture. You could tell right from the start of camp.”
But, for those who know how PTOs work, Neal can sign anywhere. If another team sees his three goals and says he’s a guy they need, that team can call up Neal’s agent, offer a guaranteed contract and Neal can take it. That’s the beauty of a PTO, in that Neal isn’t just trying out for the Blues. He’s showcasing his talents to every other NHL team. If the Blues liked what they say, they can choose to offer him a deal as well.
Again, this is only one game and Neal is known to score in spurts and then go dry for multiple games at a time. He’s not going to score at this kind of pace often and at best, he’s probably good for 15-20 goals in a season for a team that puts him in the right situation.
All that said, his performance on Saturday was enough to make sure he gets a job somewhere. It would be impossible to imagine 30 other teams seeing that game and not thinking Neal can help them in a depth role for a million dollars or less. And, considering he is still being paid by the Oilers as part of his buyout, he won’t be asking for much other than an opportunity.