James Neal puts the NHL on notice with a hat trick in the first game of his PTO.

Neal gives a good account of himself on his PTO.

HockeyFeed

There was no questioning the fact that over the last 3 seasons in the National Hockey League, the reputation of veteran goal scorer James Neal took a significant hit in the eyes of many. On Saturday night however Neal managed to turn the clock back somewhat and he may now be looking at a reasonably good shot of earning himself another contract in the NHL.

This offseason Neal signed a professional tryout offer (PTO) with the St. Louis Blues in the hopes of securing himself a new deal, and he probably could not have wished for a better start to his PTO. On Saturday night the Blues faced off against the Minnesota Wild in their first game of the NHL preseason, and it was Neal who stole the show. The veteran forward picked up a hat trick in the very first game of his tryout, propelling the Blues to a commanding 6 - 2 victory over the Wild. Neal managed the feat in just a little over 15 minutes of ice time, a very solid showing by anyone's standard.

The question now is will it be enough to earn Neal a new contract for the upcoming 2021 - 2022 regular season? The Blues are right up against the NHL's salary cap and there are legitimate questions about whether or not they can afford to sign Neal to a new deal given that cap situation. The good news here for Neal is that a professional tryout offer does not limit him to signing only with the Blues, and with a 3 goal performance he has no doubt drawn a couple of eyeballs from rival teams around the league. Admittedly the first goal seemed a bit flukey, and the third was an empty netter, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Neal will have to overcome the stigma of coming off a rough season with the Oilers, one that saw him record 5 goals and 5 assists for 10 pints over 29 games last season, in order to secure himself a new deal, but that won't be much of an obstacle if he continues to play like this.

The veteran also revealed that he believes his battle with Covid last season severely impacted his on ice performance, something that hopefully won't be a factor again in the future.

"Last year was tough. Nothing was right, it took me a long time to get over it," admitted Neal. "Just kind of fell behind, then getting bought out and trying to figure out a new path and what I wanted to do. I just kind of focused on myself and getting myself on getting in the shape that I need to be. If I did that, I felt things would take care of themselves. Here I find myself fighting for a job, which is a great way to do it."

There's no question that this was about as good of a first step towards that goal as could be and if he keeps it up I do believe he will be offered a contract prior to the start of the season. The big questions now will center around which team will be willing to take a gamble on Neal, and whether or not that gamble will pay off in the long term.