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James Neal had handy insight into Pens

TORONTO -- James Neal had one heck of a scouting report on the Pittsburgh Penguins, so when he walked in last week he felt like he already knew everyone.

"You watched them on HBO and see behind the scenes, they're a great group of guys and great atmosphere in the room," Neal said Wednesday after the morning skate at Air Canada Center.

Huh, the hit documentary series that just keeps on giving.

"It's kind of weird," said Neal. "All the players around the league watched that show, it was a great show and they did an unbelievable job. You got to see the behind the scenes at this particular group. And it just so happens I got traded here."

But wait a minute, you're saying that what we watched on TV in that series is just how it really is all the time with this team?

"The show is exactly what goes on in the room," said Neal. "This is a fun dressing room, guys are always joking around and laughing."

The transition has been therefore quite smooth off the ice, Neil said, although on it he is still searching for his first point as he laces up in his fourth game Wednesday night. During the morning skate Wednesday, Neal got a visit for a one-on-one chat with head coach Dan Bylsma. The message? Don't try to overdo it. Just do your thing.

"I was talking a lot about that, just need to come in and do the little things that I've done all my career: be physical, be a presence out there with the puck and stuff will take care of itself," said Neal.

He was set to skate on a line with Mark Letestu and Alexei Kovalev on Wednesday night. However, we all know what the likely partnership will be: No. 87. Whether that's this season or not until next year, nobody knows, but Neal can't wait.

"The best player in the world is out right now ... You saw the pace he was on this year," Neal said. "You can't say enough about him. When he comes back it's going to be nothing but the biggest boost you can possibly get."

Sidney Crosby was quick to text Neal on the day the Penguins acquired Neal from Dallas.

"He's been nothing but welcoming and a great guy," Neal said of the injured superstar captain. "First thing he said was, 'Welcome to the team, we're happy to have you.'"

Stars fans were pretty darn happy to have Neal, too. They were stunned when he got dealt last Monday, but none more so than the winger himself, who never saw it coming.

"It was a total shocker," said Neal. "I had no clue."

But he said he left on good terms with Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, the two both Whitby, Ontario, natives that have a terrific relationship, Neal said. And any rumor that suggests he wasn't seeing eye to eye with head coach Marc Crawford he says is also untrue.

"No, nothing," Neal said. "Everything was great in Dallas. That's mainly why it was a shock. But they wanted a puck-moving defenseman, [Alex] Goligoski is the guy they wanted and you have to give up something to get something."

Nieuwendyk has taken some heat for the move, but people should realize how rare and valuable young, puck-moving blueliners are in this league. Still, moving a 23-year-old power winger who's already scored 72 goals in his 217 NHL games was an eye-popper.

"I was real surprised," said blueliner Matt Niskanen, who was also in the deal from Dallas to Pittsburgh. "James was a key player on the top line in Dallas. He did a lot of dirty work for that top line. He's a big power forward that really likes to forecheck. And he's got that game-breaking shot, a quick release with lots of mustard on it. He can change the game with one shot. He's a real impact player and I think Pittsburgh is real lucky to have him now."