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Neal Adds Power, Skill to Penguins

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Ever since the Penguins drafted elite centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, there has always been chatter to find dynamic wingers to compliment their talents.

It’s something that general manager Ray Shero playfully acknowledged Monday afternoon after trading for power winger James Neal from Dallas – also acquiring defenseman Matt Niskanen in exchange for defenseman Alex Goligoski.

“I read a couple times that we’re looking for a wing,” Shero joked. “This is a step in the right direction. This is a deal that makes sense for us in the short term and the long term.”

And Neal, 23, is excited about joining a team that actively sought to add his name to their roster.

“I don’t think you can come into a better situation than I’m coming into here,” Neal said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “Being a younger guy I just want to come in and do the things that help everybody out and compliment my linemates – just do the little things and help the team.”

Neal, who will make his Penguins debut Wednesday against San Jose, has scored 20-plus goals in all three of his NHL seasons, including 27 last year, and 21 already this year. He’s cut in the power forward mold and stands at a solid 6-foot-2, 208 pounds. But the team isn’t putting any additional pressure on Neal as he makes the transition to a new team.

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“I’m going to come in and do the same things that I’ve done throughout my career,” Neal said. “I want to put the puck in the net, but there’s no added pressure to do that. Talking to the coaches, they just want me to come in and play my game. Hopefully, if I’m doing that I’ll find a way to put the puck in the net.”

“You have a big body and a guy that can shoot the puck,” new linemate Pascal Dupuis said of Neal. “Like I said, we don’t even know how he is going to be used, but at the same time he is more than welcome to score some big goals for us.”

The Stars saw enough potential in Neal that they made him the 33rd-overall selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He broke into the NHL in the 2008-09 season and racked up 24 goals as a rookie.

The Penguins already considered Neal one of the top power forwards in the NHL, and are excited about the youthful player’s high-end potential.

“There aren’t many of these young, power guys in the game,” Shero said. “Neal on our list is one of the better ones in the game. He’s got some room to grow.

“If I was ever going to (make this deal) it had to be for the right forward. I think we’ve found that in him, a young, up-and-coming winger. His best days are ahead of him.”

And Neal is humbled that the Penguins think so highly of his game and potential.

“When you feel welcome, it’s flattering to come into that environment,” Neal said. “To see the facility and atmosphere here, it’s great. It was a shock to get traded, but I’m excited to come to this team. I’m really looking forward to it.”
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