Predators' Neal gladly changed plans for All-Star spot

Friday, 01.29.2016 / 3:51 PM
Robby Stanley  - Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- With four participants for the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), the Nashville Predators will be well represented as the host team.

Predators defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi, along with goaltender Pekka Rinne, were joined on the Central Division team by forward James Neal on Thursday. Neal replaced Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (illness).

Neal previously had vacation plans but was more than willing to cancel when told that he was going to be an All-Star.

"To be a part of this weekend is going to be amazing," he said.

"Nashville is such a great place to live and a great place to play," he said. "I love being a part of this team and this organization. Having my family and everybody in town, I'm just going to enjoy it and have fun with it. It's a great weekend and it's going to be a lot of fun."

Weber will participate in the AMP Energy NHL Hardest Shot at the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVA Sports). He won the event at the 2015 All-Star Weekend in Columbus with a 108.5 mph slap shot, but doesn't necessarily believe that makes him the favorite this season.

"I don’t think so; there's too many guys with good shots," Weber said. "It really depends. There's a lot of guys in the League that shoot really hard and we'll see what they can bring [Saturday]."

It will be the first time Weber will participate in the competition in front of his hometown fans. He said there will be pressure to perform well, but nothing like what he faced last season in Columbus.

"I don't think it could be any worse than last year after I missed the net," Weber said of the 2015 Hardest Shot competition. "That pressure; holy cow. You only get two shots and I missed the first one. I made sure I hit the middle of the net on the second one. It's fun though; it's competition. Like a lot of the guys that are doing the stuff they're having fun. But guys are competitive. They want to win. That's why they're successful."

Josi, in his first All-Star Weekend, will participate in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition Saturday. He said Friday that the experience finally is starting to sink in for him.

"I came to the hotel [Thursday] and went downtown a little bit and just saw all the stuff that's going on around town," Josi said. "It's definitely soaking in right now."

Predators general manager David Poile said Thursday that Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff, coach of the Central Division team, should consider putting Neal, Josi, Weber and Rinne on the ice at the same time during the 3-on-3 format. That idea sits well with Rinne.

"That would be really cool," Rinne said. "Hopefully it's going to happen. Like I said earlier, [it's] very special to have my teammates here with me. Hopefully I'll get to be on the ice with them."

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