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BLOG: Neal confident in ability to fill top-six role for Oilers

The 32-year-old hopes to position himself as a trigger man alongside one of the Oilers top-three centres after a changing of scenery this off-season between Calgary and Edmonton

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - James Neal had his preferred position in the Oilers top-six pencilled in from the moment he knew he'd be crossing Alberta battle lines from Calgary to Edmonton earlier in July.

The 32-year-old fell down the pecking order with the Flames last season, recording a 19-point campaign with seven goals in 63 games while failing to record a 20-goal season for the first time in his 11-year NHL career before being dealt to the Oilers in an off-season move for Milan Lucic and a conditional 2020 third-round pick.

"I think things obviously didn't work out in Calgary for me and same thing for (Lucic)," Neal said after Wednesday's informal skate at the Downtown Community Arena. "It's a change of scenery for both of us and I'm really happy to be here. We got a lot of turnover here and a lot of change, and I'm looking forward to working with that.

"I was worn down and going to a new town, moving everything, and it was a big change for me. Then where I was playing (in the lineup) was really hard, so I got a fresh start here and it's in the past."

Video: RAW | Neal 09.04.19

Neal has already weighed the potential of playing alongside one of the Oilers top-three centres in Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins during the off-season and this week's informal skates prior in the buildup to training camp later this month.

"I'll talk to (Head Coach Dave Tippett) and we'll go through the specifics as we get going here into camp, but of course I want to be in the top six," Neal said. "I've proven that I can play in that role and put the puck in the net. I've scored 20-plus goals in 10 seasons, so I know I can score and for us I think it's getting that belief of winning back in this locker room and this city to get back into the playoffs."

One of the first people to see the potential of a change in scenery and top-six role for Neal in the Oilers lineup was General Manager and President of Hockey Operations Ken Holland, who had no reservations about the trade after acquiring the forward back on July 19.

"It's good for Milan and Calgary, but as it pertains to the Oilers, certainly we think James is a guy that's going to be in our top six," Holland said following the trade. "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.

"We're hoping that this fresh opportunity for James is going to energize him and get him excited to bounce back and be the guy that's scored 20 or more goals throughout most of his career.

With a repertoire of talents to bring to the table for the Oilers, Neal is positioning himself as a trigger man on the ice after a solid off-season of training and recovery following two back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights prior to joining the Flames.

"I think guys that have gone to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals, the wear and tear in our bodies and the ability to recover and getting back to where you want to be, it's just not there and that's the reality of it," he said.

"I think getting my shot where I want it to be, dialling in my stick, and everything like that. Last year I just didn't feel like myself, so I had a great summer of training and I'm in great shape. I put in a lot of work and I feel good and confident coming into camp when last year I didn't feel like that."

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