|Born||September 3, 1987 |
Whitby, Ontario, Canada
|Height||6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)|
|Weight||221 lb (100 kg; 15 st 11 lb)|
|Position||Left Wing / Right Wing|
|NHL Draft||33rd overall, 2005|
James started in the CYO in Oshawa, grew up playing minor hockey for the Whitby Wildcats of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA)'s Eastern AAA League. Among his minor hockey coaches was NHL and TSN broadcaster Bob McKenzie. His father, Peter, coached him for the major part of his minor hockey.
After his midget season, he was selected by the Plymouth Whalers in the third round, 80th overall, of the 2003 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Priority Selection.
Before joining the major junior ranks, James was assigned to the Bowmanville Eagles, a Junior A club of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), for the 2003–04 season.
Following his rookie season in the OHL, James was selected in the second round (33rd overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars. Competing in his first NHL training camp, the Stars returned him to junior, where he recorded 21 goals and 58 points with Plymouth in 2005–06.
Although he was returned again to junior following the Stars' 2006 training camp, James was signed by the club to a three-year, entry-level contract in late-October 2006. He recorded a junior career-high 27 goals and 65 points over 45 games in 2006–07.
During the season, James was chosen to represent the Western Conference in the 2007 OHL All-Star Game and scored a goal. He also helped Plymouth win the OHL title, scoring the championship winning goal in overtime in Game 6 against Sudbury. He led all tournament scorers with five goals in the Memorial Cup, held in Vancouver.
After turning professional for the 2007–08 season, James played with Dallas' American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Iowa Stars. In 62 games, he scored 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points.
The next season (in 2008–09), he scored his first career NHL goal in his first NHL game on October 10, 2008, in Dallas against Pascal Leclaire of the Columbus Blue Jackets. His first multi-point NHL game came on November 26, 2008, with a two-goal effort against the Minnesota Wild.
Famously, James' first NHL fight proved to be a memorable and quick victory.
On December 18, 2008, James was challenged to a fight by Columbus forward Derick Brassard after he checked Blue Jacket Fedor Tyutin hard into the corner of the Columbus defensive zone in the first period. James obliged and produced a gash near Brassard's left eye with a powerful right punch. Brassard quickly called the fight off where it was later disclosed that he had dislocated his right shoulder and subsequently ended his season.
Five days later, James scored his first NHL hat-trick during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 23, 2008, in an 8–2 win.
James' early season performance led to a nomination to the YoungStars roster for the 57th NHL All-Star Game in Montreal. He also broke the Stars' team record for goals scored by a rookie (not including the franchise's years as the Minnesota North Stars), surpassing Jussi Jokinen's record of 17 goals set in 2005–06, in a 10–2 rout of the New York Rangers on February 6, 2009. He completed the campaign with 24 goals and 37 points.
In the Stars' 2009–10 season opener, on October 3, 2009, James recorded Dallas' first and second goals of the season against the Nashville Predators. He improved to 55 points in his second NHL season.
On September 16, 2010, just prior to the commencement of the 2010–11 season, he signed a two-year contract extension with the Stars worth $2.25 million in the first year and $3.5 million in the second.
Leading up to the 2011 trade deadline, on February 21, James was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, along with defenceman Matt Niskanen in exchange for defenceman Alex Goligoski. Neal scored his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal on April 20 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in double overtime to give Pittsburgh a 3–1 series lead.
On February 19, 2012, one day after scoring 30 goals for the first time in his career, James signed a six-year contract extension with an average annual value of $5 million. He scored his second career hat-trick (and first as a Pittsburgh Penguin) in an 8–4 win against the Winnipeg Jets on March 20, 2012.
He had a break-out season in 2011–12, finishing with 40 goals and 81 points.
On May 24, 2013, he scored his first career playoff hat-trick against the Ottawa Senators.
On June 27, 2014, during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, James was traded by the Penguins to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. He scored his first goal with the Predators on October 17, 2014, in a 2–0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
Neal had an excellent year in 2015-16, scoring 31 goals, 58 points and setting a new Predators franchise single-season record for plus/minus with +27.
Regular season and playoffs
|2002–03||Whitby Wildcats Minor Midget AAA||OMHA||47||18||23||41||47||—||—||—||—||—|
In the 2006 off-season, James was invited to the Canadian national junior team's summer evaluation camp. His physical presence and hard-hitting impressed Team Canada's coaches, and he was brought back to the team's selection camp in December 2006.
His play earned him a spot on the club for the 2007 World Junior Championships in Sweden, where he helped Canada to a gold medal.
Two years later, James moved on to Canada's men's team for the 2009 IIHF World Championship in Switzerland. He notched three points in as many contests, helping Canada to a silver medal finish in the tournament.
In 2011, he played for Canada at the 2011 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia
- NHL YoungStar (2009)
- NHL All-Star (2012)
- NHL All-Star (2016)
James has three younger brothers, each of whom plays hockey. His brother Michael is with the Wichita Thunder (ECHL), Peter is with the Knoxville Ice Bears (SPHL) and Nicholas plays for the Cobourg Cougars (OJHL).
He went to All Saints Catholic Secondary School in Whitby, Ontario. He also has a younger sister named Rebecca.
In March 2012, James was featured on an episode of NHL 36, which followed him for 36 hours.