PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Pittsburgh’s trade with the Dallas Stars for James Neal and Matt Niskanen last season didn’t exactly pay off at first.
Neal scored just one regular season goal and Niskanen was a guy seen at the bottom of the defensive rotation as far as pairings go. Many wondered is Neal would pan out to be the goal scorer he was been hyped up to be, and others called for Niskanen to be traded headed into this season, as he served little purpose on a deep and experience Penguins’ blue line.
Oh what a year’s time can change.
After Monday’s trade deadline, it’s clear how valuable both players have become to this organization. Neal is second on the team in goals (30) and assists (31) and Niskanen has made a strong case to be named the team’s most improved player, playing 61 of 62 games and owning a plus-8 rating.
The two make their first trip back to Dallas tonight since being traded to Pittsburgh last February.
Both admit tonight’s game means more than a typical road game, but Neal says he’s happy thing worked out the way they did.
“I couldn’t find myself in a better spot,” he said, according to the Penguins official website. “I’d rather thank them for moving me because it’s such a great team here. It’s a great organization, so I’m in an amazing spot.”
Niskanen echoed Neal’s thoughts and said he’s glad this year’s deadline passed with him staying put in Pittsburgh.
“General managers probably always have their options open,” he said. “It’s just the way the situation was. I was a little nervous the last couple of days. I’m pretty relieved today. It’s a tremendous opportunity and a privilege to play here. I realize that and I just want to try to continue to thrive and keep getting better and enjoy my time here.”
As for the Stars, losing Neal and Niskanen hasn’t hurt their chances of competing for a Stanley Cup. Dallas sat in the eighth and final playoff spot going into Tuesday night’s games.
Former Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski, who was traded to the Stars last February for Neal and Niskanen, has eight goals, 26 points and an even plus/minus rating in 52 games.
“They are in a similar position as they were last year (when I was there) at this time of year, hovering around that eighth spot desperately trying to get in,” Niskanen said. “I don’t see a ton of change in their team. Kari Lehtonen has been really good again for them this year. Their young players, like Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson, are having good years. Not a whole lot of surprise from them.”