DALLAS -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are in town tonight and that means that former Stars James Neal and Matt Niskanen will be playing at the American Airlines Center for the first time since last season's trade that brought defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Stars.
Goligoski and Neal were the big names in the trade, and that means Niskanen often gets overlooked. But Niskanen is having a solid season with the Penguins, registering 18 points (3 goals, 15 assists) and a plus-8 rating in 61 games.
“A lot of confidence in the way he’s played and defended for our team this year," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Niskanen after this morning's skate. "He’s been in a lot of different roles - first power play, second power play. He’s been in our top four given our injuries, maybe our best and most improved player from the start of the season. He’s been playing well, he’s been defending and has been good with the puck. He’s added to our power play in the absence of Kris Letang when he was out for numerous games. Matt’s done a real good job for us this year, been a strong performer to us.”
Niskanen played three-and-a-half seasons with the Stars. He had an impressive rookie season in 20o7-08 but by the time he was traded last season he was having a hard time getting into the lineup.
"Those are hard lessons, I think. It stinks being in and out of the lineup and not playing well," said Niskanen. "I had success early here and some of that because I was playing well and some of that was because I was playing with good guys and on a good team. A lot of things went right for me early and then all of a sudden things went south. I think that in the long run is going to make me a better player. I think it already has this year.
"I needed to get out when I did. That was a welcome change for me. Whether it was good times or bad times, I learned a lot here and and it's going to help me moving forward."
Niskanen has been with the Pittsburgh a little more than a year now, and said his comfort level has started to grow, especially this season.
"It's been a really good change for me. Last spring just opened my eyes to a fresh start," said Niskanen. "I welcomed the change and I think starting this year is when I really started to feel comfortable and started to get the confidence back and started playing a little better. It's been a good year for me. It's really going well and the team is doing well. It's been a blast."