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An interesting season with some mixed results: Neal Pionk Jets Nation year in review

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Photo credit:© Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Connor Baldwin
1 month ago
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Neal Pionk. What can be said about this defender? Welcome back to another Jets Nation year in review. If this is your 1st one you’re checking out, you’ve missed out on many others! We’re approaching the half way mark for covering the main roster players from the Winnipeg Jets. I’ll be taking a look at their 2023-24 season and then explore what potentially their season will be like in 2024-25. Today’s next player of focus is Neal Pionk, who by the title, has had an interesting season with the Jets, leaving me with a few things to discuss this afternoon.
Pionk, a 28-year old defender from Omaha, Nebraska, had what I can only describe as an interesting season with some mixed results. I’ll get into what I mean by that shortly, but 1st let’s look at some of Pionk’s stats from this season. It was Pionk’s 5th full season with the Jets, and he matched last year’s point total with 33. Pionk got 5 goals, compared to 10 last season, but got 28 assists, compared to 23 last season. One career high was set for Pionk this year, but it was in penalty minutes, with 63. Perhaps related to this increase in penalty minutes, Pionk finished this season with 204 hits, which places him 23rd overall in the league.
The playoffs were a different story for Pionk. It wasn’t really his best performances most nights in the quick 5 game series against the Colorado Avalanche. Pionk only managed 1 assist, but might be remembered for some mistakes and a very unfortunate redirection goal into his own net. Overall, Pionk was more noticeable on the ice during the playoffs for the mistakes he made rather than being noticed for the right reasons, or making a positive impact.
Since being acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers in 2019, Pionk has certainly shown flashes of being a capable right-hand shot defenceman that can play in a top 4 role. I just think that he’s a tough player to get a good read on, in terms of projecting what his next few seasons could look like in terms of progression in the league. The scouting reports on Pionk usually mention that he’s at his best when moving the puck up the ice to join the rush. He’s a solid offensive defenceman, but in the defensive zone his lack of strength and size sometimes costs the team.
Is Pionk worth keeping around long term with this Jets team, and does he fit the team’s current play style? That’s the 2 biggest questions surrounding Pionk at the moment, and as I mentioned it’s difficult to see where Pionk’s progression will go from this season. You might remember back a few years ago in the playoffs when Pionk played a key role in shutting down star players like Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Will we see that Pionk again? A defense-first system with Rick Bowness may have changed Pionk’s approach, and with a new coach next year things could change.
Like I said, there were certainly stretches during the season where Pionk’s consistency improved. There were times where it looked like he was adjusting well to a defensive game and he did well at moving the puck up the ice on breakouts. His work on the penalty kill wasn’t the greatest, as he was on the ice for 21 goals against, playing a total of around 132 minutes on the penalty kill this season. So should the Jets keep Pionk, trade him, let him go next season, it’s a tough call.
Pionk will be entering the final year of his 4 year, 23.5 million dollar deal. Currently at 5.8 million per year, Pionk hasn’t fully justified his cap hit, but as mentioned he’s shown some flashes of being a fully capable top 4 defence. In 2025 Pionk will be 29 and will hit the free agent market, unless the Jets look to move Pionk at next season’s deadline. I’ve mentioned that right-hand shot defence are always difficult to acquire or move out, so if the Jets decide to move on from Pionk they’ll need to have a replacement ready.
I’d be ok with re-signing Pionk to a short term deal at a similar AAV that he’s getting now, but the likelier option seems to have a replacement ready to step into Pionk’s role. One option for a potential replacement from within the organization is 2022 2nd round pick Elias Salomonsson. He appears to have the tools to be a good fit for this Jets team, and maybe even get his first NHL action next season.
Overall, I’m still expecting to see a fairly good year from Neal Pionk next season. Being in his prime playing days and being on a final year of his contract, he’ll have all the motivation to prove himself next season. I’d expect him to play some of his best hockey to try to earn him an extension with the Jets, and if that plan falls through he’ll definitely be a free agent to look out for in 2025. Either way, I’m intrigued to see more from Neal Pionk next season as he maintains his solid top 4 role on defence.

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