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FEATURE: The Real Deal

"Everything in Oil Country is moving forward and I love the way our team looks," said forward James Neal

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - It's a name around the NHL that carries a reputation.

'The Real Deal' James Neal.

On Friday night, the deal to acquire Neal from the Calgary Flames was made by Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Ken Holland to add an entirely new avenue for offence to the Blue & Orange of Edmonton when the puck is dropped on the 2019-20 NHL season in October.

A proven goalscorer throughout his 11-year career, the 31-year-old arrived in Nashville on Friday for a former teammate's wedding to a flood of messages when he booted up his phone upon arrival.

"I was going to Roman Josi's wedding, so I had just flown to Nashville," Neal said to "I shut my phone off for a couple hours, and then you land and find out you've been traded to the Edmonton Oilers."

Video: AUDIO | James Neal Interview 07.20.19

Neal realized then that he'd be swapping red for blue in Alberta's strongest rivalry, along with being awarded the opportunity at a fresh start in former hostile territory.

"I'm excited about the opportunity and I think things weren't working out in Calgary," Neal said. "Both parties obviously wanted to figure things out, and I think this is the best fit."

Before there was the Neal who's best known today for recording 20-plus goal seasons in his first 10 years as a professional, there was his grandfather with a reputation for selling cars for more than 50 years in Oshawa, Ontario.

"I like it for sure," Neal said of his nickname. "It goes back to my days growing up. My grandfather was nicknamed 'Square Deal' Neal. He was a car salesman.

"When I came up in Dallas, I was given 'The Real Deal' nickname and it kind of stuck. It's kind of funny, but I like it."

Neal rejoins his former Dallas Stars bench boss Dave Tippett, who coached the left-winger during his rookie season in 2008 when he potted 24 goals and added 13 assists in 77 games.

Having a forward-thinking and experienced executive in Holland, along with joining an already-established forward core in the top six that includes Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers look to be the real deal for Neal.

"I think with Ken Holland and his history and how good of a guy he is and what he's done, I think that speaks for itself. I'm excited to be a part of this team," he said. "I think obviously they're changing with the management and coaching staff too. Dave Tippett is a guy that I've seen in Dallas and an unbelievable coach."

Video: AUDIO | Ken Holland Interview 07.19.19

Neal didn't have to look beyond his every-day training partner and linemate from the 2018 All-Star Game, Connor McDavid, while in search of immediate familiarity after being acquired by Edmonton, along with a former teammate and still good friend in goaltender Mike Smith.

"I see Connor every day," Neal said. "He's training at [former NHL forward Gary Roberts'] facility. Connor is one of the best. The day-to-day work he puts in, his mentality, and his work ethic towards the game is second to none. He's a great leader and I'm excited to play with him. I've been around Connor a long time since he was young, and he's grown a lot. He's taken his game to the next level, so I'm excited for him."

"You could see in the playoffs that [Mike Smith] is a gamer and a guy that wants to win. When you have guys like that on your team, you're looking for success and he's a good friend of mine. I'm excited to be back with him."

Neal is an offensive presence who will look to contribute immediately in an Oilers uniform and play on one of the club's top two lines and power-play units. Wherever his contributions may come, Neal is determined to put in the work this off-season with plenty of optimism so his goalscoring ability has an impact for his new club.

"Wherever I'm slotted, I'm going to do my best," he said. "I think I play my best hockey around guys that can move the puck. For me, I'm a shooter and I do my best hockey when I'm getting open and finding fresh ice. So there's lots of good things happening here.

"Everything in Oil Country is moving forward and I love the way our team looks."

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