One goal and five assists in 20 games don’t exactly bring about a wealth of confidence in a supposed scoring line winger.

But James Neal has good reasoning for his sharp decrease in production following his trade from the Dallas Stars to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

For starters, he went from flanking the wing of Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson in Dallas to carrying a line of Mark Letestu and Alex Kovalev in Pittsburgh.

While a player of his supposed skill level should be able to produce more than six points in 20 games, it’s difficult to fault him for his sharp decline once he was expected to carry the load not only of his line, but the team.

Last night, we had an opportunity to see what Neal was capable of while playing with an elite-level centerman, as he did in Dallas.

His showing wasn’t the best, as he seemed to get lost in the blur left behind the streaking Evgeni Malkin. Then again, the way Malkin was playing, I’m not sure anyone in the NHL could have kept up with him.

Add to the mix that Neal was left playing his off wing — right wing — and it’s understandable that his first preaseason game of the 2011-12 season was a tad bit underwhelming.

The way I see it, Neal has established himself as an up-and-coming hybrid power forward in the NHL. In his first three NHL seasons, he has surpassed the 20 goal plateau three times. That’s not an easy task.

One 20-game stretch does not make a career. Then again, neither does a three-year span. But if I was a betting man, I’d be more comfortable looking at his overall history rather than focusing on a small fraction of resume.

At age 24, Neal clearly has growing to do as a player. But as he learns and grows within the Penguins’ system, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities.