In Monday’s conference call welcoming newly acquired forward James Neal to the Nashville Predators, there was an overwhelming theme of leadership and offense. While in Pittsburgh, Neal was able to producing offensively even while playing behind stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. In Nashville, the spotlight will solely be on him to produce.
“You see a team that missed the playoffs by three points in a tough division in the western conference without their best player,” said Neal. “I hope I come in here and supply offense for a team that’s lacking a little bit of offense. We’ve got a great leader. We’re just getting better every day.”
Neal continued to have tremendous things to say about the leadership already in Nashville and hopes that he can add to it. He’s already heard from a few players.
“I’ve heard from a lot of guys on the team,” said Neal. “Shea Weber and Mike Fisher reached out to me right away.”
When he first heard about the trade, Neal was actually attending former teammate, Matt Niskanen’s wedding. While it came as a bit of a surprise to him in regards to the timing, coming to Nashville is something he’s looking forward to doing. Neal is hoping experience with his previous teams gives him the skills and qualities necessary to help lead a team.
“The first thing I’d like to thank the Penguins organization for everything over the past three years,” said Neal. “Coming from Dallas and playing in Pittsburgh was a wonderful opportunity for me. I couldn’t be more excited to be with the Nashville Predators and get things going. Anytime you’re traded, it always comes as a shock, even if you knew you were. To be welcomed into Nashville, to come in and be a top guy and take on a lot of responsibility is something I’m looking forward to.”
Neal understands that the Predators were close to the playoffs last year and his goal is to take the team to the next level.
“You look at what Nashville did last year, playing over 50 games without their best player,” Neal said about the team’s performance without Pekka Rinne. ” The defense is unbelievable, starting with Shea Weber. Things are changing here and we’re going to be a more offensive team.”
Another key in continuing to get better is via free agency, which begins on Tuesday, July 1. By bringing in James Neal, David Poile might be able attract more offensively minded players in coming to Nashville. It’s something that Neal said has already begun.
“We’ve started that,” said Neal is regards to reaching out to other players. “Hopefully that attracts guys wanting to come to Nashville. We have great goaltending and a great defense. We’re becoming a more powerful team.”
One topic that has been brought up the most is Neal’s discipline on the ice. He addressed it directly with the media.
“Guys change and become better for it,” said Neal. “I changed as a player. I’m going to grow. I’m still young and going to learn. I’m going to be better for it. I’m going to concentrate on being a leader on this team and taking my game to the next level. When you play this game and you want to be the best, high expectations are going to come with that.”
Next level is certainly what everyone in Nashville is hoping for. If Neal can up his game and get back to reaching the 40-goal mark, he will bring the Predators something they’ve never had in their history.
Neal knows how to win, something that is important to the Predators organization. Bringing in a veteran that is in the thick of his prime should lead to positive outcomes and, more importantly, wins in the playoffs. Neal’s intense play could help set Nashville over the edge.
“I wanted to, as a young guy, be a power forward,” said Neal. “I wanted to bring an edge to my game. You need that physical edge to win in the playoffs. I think my game fits the style of play in the west just fine.”
Only time will, but for now, this trade is a win for Nashville. With Neal coming in to Peter Laviolette’s system, Predators fan should expect to hear the goal horn many times this season.