Photo Credit: © Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Who is Neal Pionk?

It’s the end of an era in Winnipeg as the Jets have dealt Jacob Trouba after a long drawn out saga which spanned far too long.

It’s no secret that the Jets were trying to shop him before the draft as they were trying to get back to the first round after trading their pick to the Rangers at the deadline. In a fit of irony, the Jets get their exact pick back as they made another deal with New York to send Trouba packing. While getting back to the first round of the draft is exciting, there’s another important piece of the trade to examine. The only player coming back in the deal is Neal Pionk.

So who is Neal Pionk? A quick look at last year’s stats show Pionk as a 23 year old defensemen who just finished his first full season in the NHL. He played 73 games this past season and tallied six goals and 20 assists. He also had 35 penalty minutes while playing an average of 21:10 per game.

Pionk is going to be turning 24 this summer as he heads into his second full season in the NHL. The one unknown surrounding Pionk right now is his contract status. He currently sits as an RFA with arbitration rights although his new contract will be significantly cheaper than Trouba’s.

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The base stats of Pionk look very promising. Being able to score 26 points during his first season is quite impressive. The added benefit is that he’s still fairly young and might have some room to grow in his abilities.

When looking past the base stats, the picture starts to get a little darker. According to moneypuck.com, Pionk finished third last among all Rangers players this season with an on-ice xGoals% of 45.2%. In addition, naturalstattrick.com had Pionk as the worst Rangers defensemen in scoring chance percentage with 43.84%. The simplistic way to say this is that Pionk gets out-shot and out-chanced at a high rate when he is on the ice.

If you are a visual person, this can be understood with a nice graph.

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As you can see, the Rangers give up plenty of shots from the front of the crease when Pionk is on the ice. When comparing this to the shots the Rangers get when Pionk was on the ice, you can see that he doesn’t help the offense very much either.

While the advanced stats and graphs show some warning signs, it doesn’t mean Pionk is a bad player. There’s a very good chance the Pionk is still on the upswing given his career trajectory. Pionk went undrafted after he was eligible to be taken in 2013 (the same draft as Josh Morrissey). From there, Pionk turned to the USHL where he played for two seasons before making the jump to the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He flourished at university, especially in his second year when he scored 34 points in 42 games  and was named to the NCAA all-tournament team.

After the strong collegiate season, the Rangers signed him to a two year deal. He briefly had a stint in the AHL before finally making it to the NHL full time in 2018-19.

For a more in depth look at this past season, see Pionk’s 2019 Report card from blueshirtbanter.com

As far as the future is concerned, the first order of business is to get Pionk signed to a new deal. With such little NHL experience, the new contract will likely be of minimum term as Cheveldayoff won’t want to commit longer than two or three seasons. The cap hit should remain fairly low and Pionk will be able to battle for the open spot that Trouba left.

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As far as the lineup is concerned, Byfuglien will remain the number one option on the right side. After that, it gets really murky as Poolman, Niku, Morrow, and Beaulieu are all fighting for spots in the opening day lineup. Pionk will likely have a slight edge given his experience from last year, so it might be Pionk-Morrissey or Pionk-Chiarot as the options going forward.

It’s fair to say that Pionk is not a Jacob Trouba clone. Trouba has the edge in nearly every category, but the hope is that Pionk still has room to grow as a player. If he is able to continue to grow his game, he could blossom into a solid second pair defensemen and settle in behind Byfuglien on the depth chart.

  • Mc.Rib

    Today on Yahoo Sports hockey site, they said Trouba wants his fiance to go to medical school and become a doctor and that’s why he wanted out of Winnipeg. I guess we dont have any of these schools or doctors here, lol.