By now you’ve probably heard the exciting news out of Pittsburgh.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero this morning announced the long-term contract extension of All Star forward James Neal.

With a $5 million cap hit for the next six year, Neal now finds himself in the “core” group of Penguin players, and why shouldn’t he be?

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris, Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury all have had a huge impact on the Penguins at a very young age, and Neal is no different.

The 24-year-old left winger has had an upward trend in his stats since breaking into the NHL at age 21 — with the exception of last season, when his play declined following the trade to Pittsburgh.

“Obviously it didn’t work out right away,” Neal said, “but coming in this year and starting over and having a good feeling with things, having a comfort feeling, everything’s fallen into place. It’s been a great feeling.”

  • 2008-09: 24 G, 13 A, 37 Pts
  • 2009-10: 27 G, 28 A, 55 Pts
  • 2010-11: 22 G, 23 A, 45 Pts
  • 2011-12: 30 g, 27 a, 57 Pts

While in Dallas, Neal fed off of the creativity and excellent passing of center Brad Richards, but when he came to Pittsburgh, his center was downgraded to Mark Letestu, due to the injury plague.

This year, Neal has regained his scoring touch thanks in large to a quick-developed chemistry with Evgeni Malkin, and has potted goal after goal, and earning a roster spot in the All Star Game.

Neal quickly turned last year’s nay-sayers into believers and has proven he is a good fit for the Penguins, who obviously feel he is a good fit in Pittsburgh.

“It’s really difficult to find players like this,” Shero said.

Added coach Dan Bylsma: “Right away last year, although he didn’t put up points, we saw the way James Neal could play and what he could be.”

Now, possibly on the verge of a 40 goal, 75 point season, Neal already is earning the reputation as one of the Penguins’ best wingers — if not the best — since the days of Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Kovalev.

Neal has earned his contract extension, and while his annual cap hit could make things tricky for Shero as he adjusts his roster in the coming years, Neal could prove the be a bargain at $5 million per year before it’s all said and done.