Oilers' Neal seeks encore at New Jersey

It's only a week into the 2019-20 season, but it appears new Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland might have pulled off the best trade of the offseason.

James Neal will have another chance to prove Holland's intelligence Thursday when the Oilers play the second of three games in the Tri-State area, a meeting with the New Jersey Devils in Newark, N.J.

Holland and Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving agreed to a July swap of struggling forwards who would have demanded a bigger, bolder headline if the trade had occurred five years ago.

Neal went from the Flames to the Oilers in exchange for Milan Lucic and a conditional 2020 third-round draft pick.

One pricey, lefty-shooting left winger whose game had declined once he hit 30 was exchanged for another.

The July 19 transaction didn't make much of a ripple in the NHL world or even between the Alberta archrivals.

However, Neal was the real deal on Long Island on Tuesday, tallying a career-high four goals in a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders. He looked more like the sharpshooter who netted 40 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins eight years ago than the player who scored just seven in 63 games for Calgary last season.

"When you're feeling good and score a couple of goals, you feel like when you get a chance, you're going to bury it," said Neal, who has potted six in the Oilers' three games -- all wins -- in the young season.

The Whitby, Ontario, native recorded the 28th four-goal game in Oilers history, the 11th player to accomplish the feat. He is the only active player who has netted hat tricks with four different teams -- Pittsburgh (three), Nashville (two), Dallas (one) and Edmonton (one).

Neal, 32, joined Detroit's Anthony Mantha in becoming the second player in three days to tally a quartet of goals. Mantha registered all four for the Red Wings in their 4-3 home win over the Stars on Sunday.

Lucic, 31, hasn't notched a point in three games with the Flames after scoring just six goals in 79 games last season for Edmonton.

While Neal leads the NHL in total goals and is tied with Buffalo's Victor Olofsson for the lead with four power-play goals, Oilers stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl share the NHL assist lead (six) with Nashville's Matt Duchene, Carolina's Andrei Svechnikov and Buffalo's Rasmus Dahlin.

Meanwhile, New Jersey's offense was anemic in a 4-0 loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday, and the Devils have been outscored 14-2 since the second intermission of their season opener.

Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft, has yet to register a point in three games while playing on the Devils' third line, centering left winger Blake Coleman and right winger Wayne Simmonds.

New Jersey coach John Hynes said he is encouraged by what he has seen from the 18-year-old Orlando, Fla., native.

"I like that line," Hynes said Wednesday. "They had some quality chances and good offensive zone time. Coleman and Simmonds are hard on the puck, and Jack was moving his feet tonight."

Hughes is minus-3 so far, but the center nearly collected his first assist on a late five-on-three power play in the second period against the Flyers.

Playing on New Jersey's top power-play unit, Hughes slid a skillful circle-to-circle pass to Taylor Hall, but goalie Carter Hart made a spectacular post-to-post glove save on Hall's one-timer.

Hart, 21, stopped all 25 shots he faced in posting his first career shutout.

--Field Level Media
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