EDMONTON, AB - For newly-acquired Oilers forward James Neal, the rigours of the Stanley Cup Playoffs caught up to him.
Two-straight trips to the NHL's biggest dance in the Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights were felt in a disappointing year by the 31-year-old's standards in 2018-19 with the Calgary Flames.
"You don't want to make excuses about your season. Obviously it was a tough year for me," Neal, speaking with Bob Stauffer and Oilers Now on 630CHED, said Monday.
"Realistically, when you go to the Stanley Cup Finals and do everything you can to try and win a Stanley Cup, it's a huge grind and takes a lot out of you mentally and physically. Then to do it back-to-back seasons, it wears on you. It's even harder when you lose."
Video: AUDIO | James Neal Interview 07.20.19
Afforded extra time to return home to Toronto early this off-season to rest and begin training with Gary Roberts, the former player-turned-trainer who he's worked with since the age of 14, Neal is hitting the reset button this summer in order to return refreshed and rejuvenated in an Oilers uniform when the new season commences in early October.
"For me this summer, being able to regroup, go home, train with Gary again, and just kind of have the time to be able to get back into the gym and put your body through what it needs to heal and get stronger for the upcoming season, I've had that chance to reset," Neal said. "Now with the change of coming to Edmonton, it gives me an extra boost and something to work towards.
"I feel like I have a lot to prove this upcoming year, and I'll have the opportunity to do that."
Extended training time with Roberts also doubles as more time alongside his new teammate, captain, and potential linemate Connor McDavid, whom he's enjoyed watching progress in the eight years they've been accustomed to one another as training buddies.
"I see Connor every day and I've gotten to know him really well over the last eight years," Neal said. "[He was] a kid coming out of junior and all the talk was about him, but getting to know him, seeing the way he's developed, and how hard he works every day to be the best is pretty impressive. I'm really happy that things worked out the way they did and now I get to be teammates with him."
As rumours of a potential trade swirled during the early days of summer, Neal kept the focus on himself and what he needed to work on to contribute - whether that was in a Flames jersey or in the silks of another NHL organization.
"I think for me, it was just controlling what I could control," he said. "It was a long summer for myself, so I got the chance to get back into the gym and start skating early doing all the stuff that I could control to be ready for the new season, whether it was in Calgary or where I was traded.
"I'm excited things worked out the way I thought they might, and I'm really excited to join the Oilers."