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Stanley Cup Final

Three years after trade, James Neal, Patric Hornqvist meet in Cup Final

Penguins, Predators swapped forwards at 2014 NHL Draft

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Patric Hornqvist figured he was going to be a member of the Nashville Predators for a long time. He was one year into a five-year contract and had no idea what was about to happen.

James Neal had played three seasons with the Dallas Stars and four with the Pittsburgh Penguins and, after scoring a career-high 40 goals for the Penguins in 2011-12 and 27 goals in the 2013-14 season, seemed to have found a groove and a home.

But at the 2014 NHL Draft, Neal was traded by the Penguins to the Predators for Hornqvist and center Nick Spaling, a transaction that has worked out for both sides.

Neal and Hornqvist will be opponents when the 2017 Stanley Cup Final begins with Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena on Monday (8 p.m., NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

Video: How the Neal, Hornqvist trade impacted Preds, Pens

"It'll feel special, that's for sure, playing your old teammates in the Final," Hornqvist said at 2017 Stanley Cup Final Media Day on Sunday. "I don't think that happens too often, so that's going to be a special moment for me. I want to have fun with it.

"I didn't see me getting traded. I signed a five-year deal there and I played one year and had my best year (53 points in 2013-14) and then got traded in the summer. I didn't see it coming, but obviously it works out good for me and for them."

Hornqvist won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins last year, so he's got plenty to like about the trade.

"We have a lot of good players on this team," he said. "Playing with [Sidney Crosby] or [Evgeni Malkin] obviously helped me to raise the level. This organization did a really good job drafting players and it's such a deep organization, and that's why we're in back-to-back Finals."

Neal is thrilled about the growth he has experienced with the Predators, who are making their first trip to the Final.

"I adjusted really quickly," Neal said. "I got traded, bought a house and made Nashville home right away. Everyone was very welcoming. Any time you get traded, it's hard. I went there with an open mind, enjoyed it and our team's grown over the last three years and it's been a lot of fun. The fan support and everything that goes on in Nashville with hockey really opened up my eyes. It's been a great place to play."

Hornqvist, 30, has 146 points (68 goals, 78 assists) in 216 games with the Penguins since the trade. In 43 Stanley Cup Playoff games over the past three years, he has 23 points (15 goals, eight assists).

Neal, 29, has 136 points (77 goals, 59 points) in 219 games with the Predators over three regular seasons. In 36 playoff games, he has 20 points (13 goals, seven assists).

Video: Neal talks about facing off against his former team

"We were looking to change up our forwards." Predators general manager David Poile said. "We always felt our goaltending, our defense was kind of driving our team. I think the Neal trade was a start to try to get more and better offensive players."

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he was looking for a forward with different elements.

"It was the first move I made when I got here," Rutherford said. "We traded James Neal, a good player, good goal-scorer, but we had enough players that could score. We were looking for that type of passionate player, good team guy, good in the locker room.

"I've never met a player like [Hornqvist]. He never has a bad day. We could lose 10 in a row, and he'd be in the locker room as if we'd won 10 in a row. He keeps things going in there. He's given us everything we thought."

Hornqvist said there are no regrets. He is thrilled for Nashville, his former home, to have reached the Final.

"I'm happy for that city; it's a really great city to play in," he said. "The fans there are really loud. I'm happy for my friends there, but they're not friends in the next two weeks here. We all want the same (thing). It's going to be a great series for sure."

Hornqvist has missed the past six games because of an upper-body injury but has been cleared to practice.

"He'll be a game-time decision," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Sunday. "Based on the way he practiced today, we're certainly encouraged."

Neal, like Hornqvist, said he's moved on from the trade but admitted Monday it was tough to see the Penguins win the Stanley Cup last season.

"I had great friendships here," Neal said. "They're all good guys, great players. But I'm on a different team now. I've moved forward. Any guy on any team is going go out there to do whatever they can to win and win for the guys next to you. I can't wait to get started here. The last few days, you're anxious, you're excited. You just can't wait to get the series started."

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