Starsí prospects getting chance
James Neal spoke with the bluntness of a grizzled veteran wary of the organizationís young and rising stars.

"There are always young guys coming in so Iím an older guy now and Iím trying to get a spot on the team," Neal said Monday after the first session of the Dallas Stars developmental camp.

Nealís age? 20.

Although Neal wonít be cashing Social Security checks anytime soon, he and the other players in camp are keenly aware of the opportunities before them.

With the Starsí new regime of co-general managers Les Jackson and Brett Hull, prospects are being given the chance to make the big team. When Jackson and Hull replaced former general manager Doug Armstrong in November, they said their vision for the Stars was to be younger, faster and more skilled.

And instead of bringing in secondary players from other teams to fill holes ó as Armstrong did with Brad Winchester and Todd Fedoruk ó Jackson and Hull seem more than willing to give their own prospects a chance to contribute.

"Itís open," said Neal, of the competition for the remaining roster spots. "Guys have to go for that. Itís been clear that spots are going to be there."

The strategy makes sense competitively and financially. The Stars received beneficial returns from many of their young players last season, when rookie defensemen Matt Niskanen, Mark Fistric and Nicklas Grossman and second-year forward Loui Eriksson were key contributors. And because the Stars are close to the salary cap after signing Sean Avery, they donít have much to spend in salary so giving prospects a chance is a sensible alternative.

Neal, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound left wing, could be one of the prospects to make the leap to Dallas. A second-round pick (33rd overall) in the 2005 NHL Draft, Neal has shown a penchant for scoring and physical play.

His last two seasons playing for Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League, he recorded 123 points and 203 penalty minutes in 111 games. He had 37 points (18 goals, 19 assists) and 63 penalty minutes in 62 games with Iowa in the American Hockey League last season.

"I just try to bring a physical aspect," Neal said. "Put the puck in the net, be good around the net, be physical and play hard every shift."