Better late than never for Chris Neil
The rugged Senators forward will reach a milestone on Saturday night in terms of National Hockey League service, suiting up for the 500th game of his career when Ottawa faces off against the New York Islanders at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
"I feel great that I've been around this long and hopefully I've got a lot more in me to keep going," said Neil, 29, who's in his seventh season with the Senators. "When you first come into this league, you want to get 100 (games) in and now you're at 500. Then you see guys this year getting to 900 (Daniel Alfredsson
and Shean Donovan) and 1,000 (Jason Smith) and you hope you can keep on rolling and injuries don't set you back and you can get another 500."
Neil's milestone should have arrived much sooner, but he's missed 22 games this season because of injuries and illness. His game total for this season will be a career low for a guy who's always shown plenty of durability.
"I've been fortunate throughout my career so far in that I haven't had many injuries," he said. "Hopefully, I've got them all behind me and I can keep on truckin'."
"I feel great that I've been around this long and, hopefully, I've got a lot more in me to keep going. When you first come into this league, you want to get 100 (games) in and now you're at 500." - Chris Neil
When Neil hits the ice against the Isles, he will become just the seventh player to log 500 games in a Senators uniform. Only Daniel Alfredsson
(921), Wade Redden (838), Chris Phillips
(769), Radek Bonk (689), Mike Fisher (529) and Alexei Yashin (504) rank higher on that list.
"It's been great to have been with this organization that long," said Neil, a sixth-round pick in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. "Playing with guys like Wade Redden, Daniel Alfredsson
, Chris Phillips
and Dany Heatley ... it's been great. Mike Fisher has been around for a long time. Those are the guys who have been here with me through the good times and the bad times. It says a lot about the organization and how they've drafted."
Neil is still hopeful he can sign a new contract with the Senators before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
"It feels good to be part of an organization that you've been able to play 500 games with," he said. "Hopefully, there are still a lot more (games) left to play in an Ottawa uniform."