James Neal took part in his first full practice for the Pittsburgh Penguins in over a month this morning. He was injured in the season opener against the New Jersey Devils and hasn’t played more than four minutes for the Penguins this season to this point. Needless to say, seeing Neal back out on the ice and taking part in drills with teammates is a site for the sore eyes of the Penguins.
Neal spoke to the official site of the Penguins about how it felt to be back out on the ice:
It feels good to be back with the team. It’s always exciting to get back into the swing of things and get out there with the guys when you haven’t been around for a long time.
Fans of the Pens shouldn’t expect to see him in a game in the immediate future though. At least that’s the way head coach Dan Bylsma made it sound after practice this morning. He spoke at length about what Neal needed to do to get back into the lineup for an actual game:
He’s got a ways of work he’s doing now to get back in that shape. To have physicality, five-on-five play in traffic, that’s another level for James. Today was Day 1 of that. It’s a little bit different if you have an injury where you can skate for three weeks and then get back to practice for one or two days. He’s on a little bit longer of a progression than that.
Still, the site of Neal in a Penguins uniform out in the ice is a very welcome one for Pittsburgh. The Pens have had an awfully tough time staying healthy this year, and Evgeni Malkin hasn’t been his usual dominating self without solid NHL-caliber wingers to play with. No disrespect to Chuck Kobasew, but Neal brings a touch more skill to the ice when he plays.