After missing the playoffs the last two seasons, recently hired Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland wanted to inject some high-end talent to his lineup.
While James Neal may not have looked the part in 2018-19, Holland believes the Oilers have acquired a proven offensive player who should be able to bounce back with more opportunities.
“I talked to a lot of people, I have a lot of contacts in the industry and everything that I gathered, I just felt it was just a tough year for James Neal,” Holland said on Prime Time Sports Tuesday.
“Coming to Edmonton with the coach that we’ve got, with the players that we got up front, with the opportunity to play on one of the two power-play units. We see him as a top-six forward, he’s motivated and he’s done it for a long, long time and we believe he can bounce back and score some goals for us.”
Holland also hopes that Neal’s training with Gary Roberts in Toronto, along with Connor McDavid, should help him rebound from a tough season with the Calgary Flames where he scored only seven goals and 19 points in 63 games.
While there’s no timeframe for McDavid’s recovery, Holland is encouraged by his progress in rehab.
“I have been in touch with his agent Jeff Jackson on a regular basis, everything I am hearing is positive, he’s doing good,” Holland said.
“I have no timeframe for you here but I’m hoping here by September we’ll see him on the ice at training camp. But again it’s still July, he’s trending in the right direction and everything I get is positive, I just don’t have an absolute timeframe.”
When it comes to bringing in Mike Smith, Holland said the goaltender’s relationship with new head coach Dave Tippett, and his long body of work, steered him toward the signing.
“I like that he’s experienced and he’s going to help our defence because he can really handle the puck,” said Holland.
“We got a lot of mileage out of a lot older players in Detroit. Mike Smith is an older player, but he is a pro, he’ a vet, he’s competitive, he’s motivated and he’s a got coach who he has a relationship with, so I think all those factors were the reasons why we had interest and signed him.”
You can listen to the full interview with Holland below.