Ron and Don: James Neal is real leader of Golden Knights

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean talk about playing on the road vs. playing at home, why James Neal should be captain of the Golden Knights, and uncalled penalties in the playoffs.

With a rotating cast of alternate captains and no one sporting the ‘C,’ the Vegas Golden Knights have had a lead-by-committee approach all season long. Clearly, it’s working, as veterans and young guys alike have taken turns stepping into a leadership role to help the league’s newest club battle well into the post-season.

Deryk Engelland, a transplanted Las Vegan who has long considered Vegas his home, has been a steady presence both on and off the ice and has been whole-heartedly embraced by his heart’s hometown in return. Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, isn’t allowed to sport the captain’s C due to his position as goaltender but has very much been a captain-like presence all year with teammates and coach Gerard Gallant singing his praises early and often over the course of the team’s inaugural campaign.

“There’s no doubt. I mean, he’s the guy that runs our group,” Gallant said during a Hockey Central at Noon appearance last month. “He’s doesn’t miss anything. He’s such a professional and such a good person and everybody likes him. He’s definitely a captain type of guy.”

But if the Golden Knights were to stitch the letter ‘C’ onto one guy’s sweater, Don Cherry believes it should be that of James Neal.

“The captain is James Neal,” Cherry said Friday night, pointing to a video of Neal breaking up a tense situation during what was an eventful Game 3 for him as just one of many examples of his leadership.

Neal was named as an alternate captain prior to the season alongside Engelland, Jason Garrison, David Perron, Luca Sbisa, and Reilly Smith.

“This guy, he only played 12 minutes the other night, he was plus-three, he got knocked out and he came back,” Cherry explained.

The 30-year-old forward was on the receiving end of a forearm shot from Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, which required him to undergo concussion protocol. He was ultimately cleared to return to play, finishing the game with a goal and an assist to help Vegas take a 2-1 series lead.

If the Golden Knights are, in fact, considering Neal as a long-term leader, they’ll have to sign him to a new deal before making any stitches. The pending unrestricted free agent has fulfilled expectations in Vegas as a goal-scorer, registering 25 goals and 44 points in 71 games for Vegas.

“He is the leader, believe me, on that club, and he’s doing a great job,” Cherry said.

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