James Neal will play in Dallas tonight for the first time since last February’s trade to Pittsburgh — and while he’s not expecting a warm reception, he certainly wouldn’t mind getting one.
“Yeah, that would be nice,” Neal told NHL.com about the potential for applause. “I definitely enjoyed my time here. It was a great group of guys, had fun, and on to a new page in my career.
“It’ll be weird for a bit to start, but I’m sure it’ll continue to be another road game and that’ll take care of itself.”
Neal spent two-and-a-half seasons in Dallas — scoring 72 goals in 214 games — and looked to be emerging as of the NHL’s brightest young power forwards. That’s probably why the deal to Pittsburgh caught him off guard, and why he now has mixed emotions about facing the team that drafted him 33rd overall in 2005.
“I kind of expected it to be a little weird,” he said. “I played three years here and started my career here. It’s definitely different walking by the room and going past it, the normal things that you would do. It’s definitely weird going on the ice and coming off from the skate and walking down the hallway.”
Also making his Dallas return tonight is defenseman Matt Niskanen. Like Neal, he was taken high by the Stars at the 2005 draft (28th overall) and like Neal, he too was shipped to Pittsburgh in exchange for Alex Goligoski. The trade has been a boon for the Penguins — Neal is a 30-goal guy, Niskanen ranks second among Pittsburgh defensemen in points — but for all the success he’s having in Pittsburgh, Niskanen still looks back on his time in Dallas with fondness.
“I think what sticks out the most is my first year being here, having the success I did both individually and the run we made in the playoffs, going to the Western Conference Finals [in 2008],” he said. “That was kind of the peak, I think my best Dallas Stars memory.”