Pro hockey season starting as NHL teams provide hope

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The James Neal takeover is in full effect.

It really is a fun time when the NHL season starts. Teams that don’t expect to be contending come February are providing a little glimmer of hope for their fan bases. The Buffalo Sabres are a team that comes to mind and has been for the past two seasons.

Time will tell if teams that get off to hot starts can sustain that. That also goes for Neal, the Edmonton Oilers forward who has risen from the dead of Calgary purgatory a year ago to score eight goals in the first six games for a surprising Oilers club.

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Although the Oilers lost for the first time this season on Monday at Chicago, Neal scored once again, officially eclipsing his goal total from 2019 with the Calgary Flames; the team that signed him to a five-year, $28.75 million contract in 2018.

Neal was signed to be the veteran presence for a young Calgary team looking to get over the hump and make the playoffs. While the Flames did make the jump and win the Pacific Division last season (only to lose in five games to the Colorado Avalanche), Neal did not provide anything more than healthy scratches and minimal goals.

So, Calgary thought it was the inconceivably correct move to ship Neal to Edmonton, his third Pacific Division team in three seasons, for of all players, Milan Lucic. The 31-year-old physical forward has not materialized into anything like the player he was in Boston for eight seasons. He’s played six games and has not scored a goal for the Flames, who are shaky out of the gates at 2-3-1 entering their contest against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Neal is as bit of everything Edmonton hoped for. Neal scored four goals against the New York Islanders on Oct. 8 and has continued to be a steady presence for the Oilers not named Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

It’s likely been a whirlwind past three seasons for Neal; having played in a Stanley Cup Final with Nashville, be left unprotected in the expansion draft, get selected by the Vegas Golden Knights, who go on a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Final while having to deal with trade rumors for the better part of five months.

Then, he doesn’t reach a deal with Vegas to keep him in Sin City and ends up in Calgary, getting his money but likely no happiness.

So, this is a rejuvenation of sorts for Neal. Playing with McDavid every night, whether it be on their line or on the power play, Neal is going to get his chances. If there’s anything he’s good for this early, it’s putting the puck in the net.

Whether or not Neal can carry this form all the way to the Rocket Richard Award remains to be seen. But his presence gives Edmonton something they’ve lacked since the last time the Oilers made the playoffs in 2017 — credibility.

That’s the real deal.

Thursday

Predators at Coyotes: Nashville is off to a solid start offensively, primarily because Matt Duchene has played well. Goaltending has been a struggle. The Coyotes are on the cusp of scaring a lot of teams. COYOTES

Saturday

Sabres at Sharks: The Sabres are becoming the darlings that get off to a hot start but fizzle about 25-30 games in. Buffalo is good right now, and against a surging Sharks team, I think they can stun on the road. SABRES

Sunday

Canucks at Rangers: The Canucks will be on the second half of a back-to-back, but they get the early start against New Jersey the day prior. A fairly rested Vancouver team that is stacked should handle the Rangers. CANUCKS

Last week: 0-3

Season: 2-4 

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About the Author
Danny Webster

Danny Webster

Danny Webster is an NHL columnist at Gaming Today. He is a graduate of UNLV whose work also appears on NHL.com, Vegas Hockey Now, and SB Nation.

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