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Neal's history with Oilers coach fuels optimism following trade

Forward played for Tippett as NHL rookie, struggled with Flames last season

by Derek Van Diest / Correspondent

EDMONTON -- Dave Tippett has a history with James Neal, and it is one reason the new Edmonton Oilers coach believes the newly acquired forward will rebound this season.

"I've talked to James Neal since we traded for him," Tippett said at a charity golf tournament Wednesday. "I had James as a young player in Dallas and know him pretty well, and he's excited to have a bounce-back year. ... I know James has had a real good offseason, he's worked hard."

Neal played for Tippett with the Dallas Stars as an NHL rookie in 2008-09 and scored 37 points (24 goals, 13 assists) in 77 games. It was the first of 10 straight 20-goal seasons for Neal, who was acquired by the Oilers in a trade with the Calgary Flames for forward Milan Lucic on July 19.

"He's had a great summer," Tippett said. "I'm going to go out and see him next week and spend some time with him. He's excited to be an Oiler and I think he'll fit well in our lineup. The two or three times I've talked to him so far, [his motivation] is very high."

Video: Holland on Neal acquisition, first season with Oilers

Neal, who turns 32 on Sept. 3, had 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists), the fewest of his 11-season NHL career, in 63 games with Calgary last season. In 2017-18, Neal had 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) for the Vegas Golden Knights.

"I think it's probably a combination of two things," Tippett said of Neal's struggles last season. "He didn't play well enough for the coach to put him in those key situations he wanted to be. He ran through a couple of injury situations, and once you lose that confidence and lose where you are it's tough to get it back. They were a good team all year, I think it was probably less about him and probably more about other players playing above him."

Neal has four years remaining on a five-year, $28.75 million contract (average annual value of $5.575 million) he signed with Calgary on July 2, 2018.

"I've watched a lot of James' games, not as many from last year but more from his success in Vegas," Tippett said. "I think he'll be a good player on our team."


[RELATED: 2019-20 NHL Trade Tracker | Team Reset: Edmonton Oilers]


Selected by Dallas in the second round (No. 33) of the 2005 NHL Draft, Neal has 514 points (270 goals, 244 assists) in 766 games with the Flames, Golden Knights, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins and Stars.

"Adding Neal to our lineup gives us another top-six guy," said Tippett, who was hired by the Oilers on May 28, replacing Ken Hitchcock three weeks after Edmonton named Ken Holland general manager. "That just gives us a little more balance there."

Neal reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 with the Predators and in 2018 with the Golden Knights.

"The two years prior he's gone to the Final both years," Tippett said. "He wanted to let his body heal up and didn't feel like he was able to work out to the extent he normally did."

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