Players like James Neal, Owen Nolan, Erik Cole, Dustin Brown, Tomas Holmstrom and Alex Burrows have a lot in common.They’re all tough and skilled wingers, players who can score goals and make plays both with strong shots and clever passes, but also with aggressive hitting and power moves.Fans of the Edmonton Oilers are now hoping, however, that these players all have one more thing in common: the ability to bounce back after a weak season or two. That is something Nolan, Cole, Brown and Holmstrom all did.It’s something Neal has yet to do, even as their are great hopes in Oil Country that after one weak year, Neal can now pull off such a feat.How common are bounce back years?These players are all on a list of 34 accomplished power forward forwards I compiled a few years ago as comparables to Milan Lucic. I wanted to see how many good years the Oilers might hope to get out of Lucic, whom they were at that time in June 2016 rumoured to be hoping to sign.In the end, Edmonton signed Lucic to a seven year deal but got out of him only one year where he performed at a near peak level. This is at the low end of any kind of reasonable expectation for this kind of power forward.Calgary signed up Neal last summer at age 30 on a five-year deal hoping to get some peak or near peak years out of the big and lanky attacking winger. Instead Neal’s game crashed, going from 0.62 points per game as a 30-year-old in Vegas to 0.3 points points per game as a 31-year-old in Calgary.His production was cut in half. Ouch!On average, this kind of power forward tends to play his last near peak season at age 33. On average, most of them play their final NHL season at age 35.Some of them, like Shane Doan, Holmstrom, Jarome Iginla and Jason Chimera, manage to keep playing strong hockey until they’re in their late 30s. Some of them, like Martin Lapointe, Lucic, David Clarkson, Andrew Ladd and Ryan Callahan, flame out in their late 20s, often due to injury.Most of them decline slowly over time, going from 0.6 to 1.0 point per games in their late 20s players to 0.4 to 0.8 per game players in their early to mid-30s, then to 0.1 to 0.4 per game players after the age of 35. The ability to score fades away gradually as the players ages.The reboot and rebound gangA handful of these comparable players, such as Nolan, Brown, Cole and Holmstrom, have some down scoring years, only to see that part of their game rebound. In this game, the rebound seasons for players are highlighted in yellow.So can James Neal rebound?When we look at other players in this group most like Neal, attackers who scored around 0.6 points per game as 30 year olds, we see Cole, Chris Kunitz and David Backes playing strong hockey until they were 36, Bobby Holik until he was 35, Ryan Smyth until he was 34, Alex Burrows, 33, Dan Cleary and Ryan Kesler, 32, Chimera and Holmstrom, 37.A lot of it with Neal will come down to opportunity and good health. Last year he had the opportunity to play with some good players in Calgary, but this year the door is wide open due to lack of competition on the wing. He’s going to get plenty of opportunity next year with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. TSN pundit Craig Button is already predicting he’ll be back to scoring 20 goals. That can happen if Neal stays healthy, something that failed to happen last year in Calgary, with Neal missing games due to illness, then getting knocked out five weeks with an upper body injury.All that said, most of these players have a drop off in their performance in their late 20s or 30s and they never recover their old scoring ways. After looking at these comparables, I’m less hopeful than I was heading into this back-of-the-envelope survey.At the same time, if Dustin Brown can do it, why not James Neal?Neal is reportedly working hard this summer with fitness guru Gary Roberts. Neal is already friends with McDavid, who also trains with Neal. Maybe Neal can find a bit of magic in his game for a few more years.Worst case — and the most likely bet unfortunately — is that Neal won’t rebound much, if at all.Given all I know about Neal, about these players, and about the opportunity he now has, I’ll suggest it’s a coin flip as to whether or not he can get back to scoring 0.5 to 0.7 points per game.Best case scenario is that he’ll find a new role in front of the net on the power play like Holmstrom evidently did late in his career in Detroit and be a useful player for the Oilers for several years to come.Explosive Edmonton Entrepreneurs: Cole RosentreterDrones will be workhorse of the future for industry
Cole Rosentreter, Chief Executive Officer, Pegasus Imagery with one of the companies drones on Tuesday, July 30, 2019 in Edmonton. The Edmonton company builds massive commercial drones for farmers, fighting forest fires and the military.
Greg Southam /
At the Cult of HockeySTAPLES: Holland gets praise from one of Oil’s sternest criticsSTAPLES: Could Shattenkirk be right for Oilers? HmmMcCURDY: Broberg makes clear why he picked Sweden over HamiltonSTAPLES: What would Puljujarvi’s possible return mean for the Oilers?LEAVINS: Revisiting the Jesse Puljujarvi mess & 8 other things