Neal looks to turn it up this season for Pens
The Penguins are thrilled to welcome Evgeni Malkin and, eventually, a healthy Sidney Crosby back to their lineup. Having the real James Neal also should make for a nice addition.
Neal, acquired from Dallas in February, scored only two goals in 27 games with the Penguins but has made a believer out of coach Dan Bylsma.
"James Neal is a 20-goal scorer," Bylsma said, "and we think he can score 30."
Neal's pedigree suggests such numbers are likely after scoring 24 and 27 goals, respectively, during his first two NHL seasons in Dallas.
Neal was on pace for 30 goals before being traded to the Penguins, who were without Crosby and Malkin. He dealt with playing without the team's top playmaking centers, living in a hotel in a new city and attempting to adapt to a new system during a playoff push.
Despite the lack of success, his confidence remains.
"Last year was kind of a whirlwind," Neal said. "Everything was happening so fast."
The pressure to produce remains, but any inability to adapt to the team is gone.
"I feel much more comfortable this year," Neal said. "I'm adjusted to everything. I just want to focus on playing well and making Pittsburgh my home."
Bylsma is aware that many fans were dissatisfied with Neal's performance last season and came to the winger's defense. The coach clearly believes in Neal, who will likely see most of his time at right wing.
"I think he scored more goals than Tyler Kennedy, and Tyler Kennedy had a 'breakout' year," Bylsma said.
Bylsma expects Penguins fans to soon embrace Neal. The coach referenced Neal's history of starting seasons well and expects him to make sizable contributions.
"I think he's going to be ripping the puck on net here and getting some goals for us," Bylsma said, "and our fans are going to see that, so that will be a change for a few of them, I think, for how they think and feel."
Neal can relate to the disappointment felt by those outside and inside the organization.
"It's frustrating when you're not scoring," he said. "No fun."
Bylsma watched video this summer of every one of Neal's 74 career NHL goals. Perhaps it isn't coincidental that Bylsma has moved Neal from left wing to right wing, although that move was partially because of the team's considerable depth on the left side.
"He has the ability to score a lot of goals from that angle of the ice," Bylsma said. "And (he'll) have a pretty good center to get him the puck."
Neal admits that playing with Crosby and Malkin will be exciting. Crosby recently said he paid close attention to Neal's game from the press box last season and indicated that he has a strong feel for his game.
"So many great players on this team," Neal said. "It's going to be fun. I'm excited to have a fresh start this year. I'm ready."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins trade Sutter to Canucks, sign free agent center Fehr
- Rossi: ‘Hockey guy’ Sutter will be missed
- Sutter: Staal effect felt on 3rd line with Penguins
- Reliving the moment a decade ago that shifted the Penguins' history
- New Pens winger Fehr ready for defense-first role
- ‘Warning track’ makes Pittsburgh debut at Southpointe’s Iceoplex
- Rossi: ‘Hockey guy’ Sutter will be missed