EDMONTON, AB - Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Ken Holland has been painting the picture of a new Oilers team since his appointment, and the acquisition of forward James Neal serves as one of the most key additions of his tenure.
"Certainly this deal was about making a change to our team," Holland, speaking with EdmontonOilers.com on Friday, said. "They had some struggles last year. Two years ago they obviously had a run to the second round of the playoffs, but I'm trying to change the dynamic and change the chemistry."
Holland hired an experienced coach in Dave Tippett in May before adding to the club's defensive depth by selecting Philip Broberg eighth overall at this year's NHL Draft. He set the stage for a competitive training camp with a trove of signings on or before July 1 like forwards Joakim Nygard, Markus Granlund, and goaltender Mike Smith keen to make an impact to go along with multiple re-signings in Joe Gambardella, Jujhar Khaira, and Alex Chiasson.
The trade for Neal from the Calgary Flames adds a proven point producer to the club's top-six forwards for the upcoming season for Holland, while offering another avenue for offensive production in an Oilers forward corps centred around Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
"As it pertains to the Oilers, certainly we think James is a guy that's going to be in our top six," Holland said. "He scored 20 goals or more for 10 or 11 seasons, he's going to get a real opportunity to play with one of our top-two centres, and probably play on one of our two power-play units."
Before a tough year by his standards in 2018-19 with the Flames, recording seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points in 63 games, the 31-year-old went down in the record books as one of only 38 players in NHL history to notch 20-plus goals in his first 10 seasons.
Holland won't speculate on the future, but he will combine precedence with the opportunity he sees for Neal in the Oilers lineup alongside any one of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, or Leon Draisaitl next season in the Blue & Orange of Edmonton.
"I can go to the record book and see James has built up a resume," Holland continued. "I looked at the resume and then I looked at the opportunity on our hockey club. Certainly with Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid, and Draisaitl, I don't know how Dave is going to play those three players, but ultimately two of those guys are going to be our top-two centremen. Any of those three guys has the ability to create scoring opportunities for their linemates."
"James has proven in his career that when he gets scoring chances, he can bury the puck. When you look at what we have on our team in those centres, you look at his resume and what he's done in his career."