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Neal's Increased Comfort Level Has Him Ready for Fresh Start

Friday, 09.02.2011 / 12:00 AM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
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Neal\'s Increased Comfort Level Has Him Ready for Fresh Start
Here is a look at Penguins forward James Neal during his offseason workouts. Watch as he spends the summer with former Pen Gary Roberts getting ready for the 2011-12 season. The full show will be available on thescore.com in late September.





After learning that the Dallas Stars had traded him to the Penguins on Feb. 23, James Neal immediately boarded a plane to Pittsburgh after getting the news.

He didn’t have time to truly absorb the shock of his first trade or make living arrangements, instead staying in a hotel near CONSOL Energy Center for the remainder of the season while getting used to a brand-new organization.

James Neal (Getty Images)
It all happened so fast, and Neal had no choice but to adjust as well as he could. But now that time is back on his side and he’s had all summer to get situated, Neal is looking forward to a fresh start.

“I just feel so much more comfortable here in Pittsburgh,” Neal said. “Last year was kind of a whirlwind with getting traded and just everything that went along with that. It just seemed to go so fast.

“You get a call one day and then you’re on a plane and you’re in Pittsburgh and your whole life changes in a matter of minutes. It’s crazy, but at the same time, it’s exciting. It’s a great chance to play on an amazing team with amazing players. It’s definitely for the better and I couldn't be happier that it happened.”

Neal, who returned to Pittsburgh on Sunday after spending the offseason in his hometown of Whitby, Ontario, has found a place in the area and has taken care of all his loose ends that unraveled with the trade.

The 6-foot-2, 208-pound power forward took three weeks off after representing Team Canada in the 2011 IIHF World Championships, giving his body time to rest and recover from the rigors of the season.

He’s since had a productive summer training six days a week with former Penguin Gary Roberts and high-end NHLers like Steven Stamkos and Jeff Skinner (READ MORE ABOUT NEAL’S OFFSEASON TRAINING REGIMEN). With his life back to normal, Neal is motivated, rejuvenated and ready to report to training camp with his mind in the right place.

“I’m looking forward to being settled and being focused on just hockey,” he said. “I don’t have anything else to worry about, like what you’re going to do with your place back in so-and-so and what you’re going to do with your furniture and your cars and all that stuff. I’m all ready to go.”

The 23-year-old forward – who turns 24 on Saturday – is entering his fourth season in the league. He’s scored 20-plus goals in each of his previous three campaigns, and he’s looking to take his production to the next level heading into this next season.

“I’ve never scored 30 goals in the league, so it’s something to strive for,” he said. “You just want to better yourself every year. You want to get stronger every year and do all the right things. Hopefully I’ll give myself a chance to do that this year.”
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