EDMONTON — James Neal didn’t take long to show the Edmonton Oilers he believes he has rediscovered his scoring touch.
Neal made an early impact with the Oilers, scoring a goal as they kicked off pre-season play with a 2-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Monday.
It was his first game with his new team following an off-season trade from the rival Calgary Flames.
“It means a lot,” Neal said. “Obviously going to a new team and building chemistry with new linemates is big. I think there is a bit of a different feel here this season with all of the changes. This is a big pre-season for us and we need to hit the ground running and feeling good about our game going into Game 1.
“I had a great summer and feel really good coming into camp. It’s been about three years since I felt this good. I had a good feeling out there tonight.”
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also scored for the Oilers (1-0).
Neal struggled with just seven goals in a career-worst campaign last year with the Flames, prompting his trade this summer to the Oilers in exchange for Milan Lucic. Edmonton is hoping he returns to form this year.
Neal has scored at least 20 goals in 10 of his 11 seasons in the NHL, hitting the 40-goal mark with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011-2012.
Nugent-Hopkins believes he has already developed some chemistry with Neal as a new linemate.
“Once we got going we started to find each other more, it felt good to get it going out there,” he said. “The way that James and I play, we both like to come to the puck and always be looking for each other.
“We found each other a few times. We still need to get better from here, but it felt good so far.”
Oilers defencemen Joel Persson and Oscar Klefbom had two assists apiece, while goalies Stuart Skinner and Dylan Wells made a combined 25 saves to split the shutout.
It took almost 16 minutes to get the game’s first goal as a Persson point shot hit Neal in front and he spun around and put it past Jets starting goalie Eric Comrie.
Wells came in to replace Skinner, who made 18 saves, in the Oilers net midway through the second.
The Oilers made it 2-0 with just 16 seconds left in the middle frame as Nugent-Hopkins, who had a career-high 28 goals last season, deftly moved to the backhand before beating Comrie up high to the glove side.
There was no scoring in the third period.
The Oilers are back at it on Tuesday in Vancouver against the Canucks. The Jets return to action on Wednesday, when they host the Minnesota Wild.
Notes: It was the first of seven pre-season games for each team… Oilers captain Connor McDavid has been fully practising with the team following a knee injury suffered at the end of last season. He has expressed interest in playing in at least one exhibition game but is leaving that decision up to medical staff… Both teams had several players in Monday’s match who weren’t with the organization at the end of last season. For the Oilers, that list included Neal, Riley Sheahan, Josh Archibald, Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas and Persson. For the Jets’ new faces were defencemen Anthony Bitetto, Gabriel Bourque and Neal Pionk, and forwards Andrei Chibisov, Mark Letestu and Joona Luoto.