The Future Face of the Ranger Defense: Neal Pionk
The Rangers are back as the NHL season is just about to commence, but not all of the questions surrounding the dynamic of this new-look team have been answered. One of the biggest question marks throughout last year and into this offseason was how the Rangers defense will shape up following the departure some key members of that corps. One thing is for sure though, and that is that the Rangers have a rising star in youngster Neal Pionk.
Rangers fans got to see their first glimpse of Pionk during the 2017 NHL pre-season, during which he quickly caught the attention of many with a gorgeous goal and some stellar play. And while he did not make the team thereafter, he was back in no time when the Rangers suffered key injuries on defense and began rebuilding at the trade deadline. From what Pionk has shown us, it is evident that he has the capability to be a fantastic two-way defenseman for a long time.
Last season, Pionk was immediately shoved into a high-pressure situation that consisted of Rangers fans being very antsy to see who is in the system following their deadline fire sale. Pionk seemingly took this in stride, becoming arguably their best defenseman in the final portion of the season. In 28 games played, he notched 14 points. And that is from a player not even considered to be an “offensive” defenseman.
But what makes Pionk so special isn’t his ability to put up points and dish the puck, but rather his complete and utter lack of timidness. He is one of the most confident players to enter the ranks of the Rangers organization in years. Time in and time out, he takes control of the puck and sends it towards the net. He is unafraid to take shots and is constantly finding ways to create opportunities. In the Rangers pre-season matchup against the New Jersey Devils this week, the first goal of the game was scored on the rebound of a hard Pionk shot. Pionk received a pass high in the slot and, without hesitation, smacked it towards the net. It is this kind of bold play that the Rangers have been lacking for years, especially on the power play. Take a look at Pionk’s nifty 2017 pre-season goal.
With proper development, Pionk will be a force to be reckoned with. He has shown incredible potential to be a fantastic top-four NHL defenseman. He has the ability to put up points while being an extremely solid defender. He should be one of the most exciting young Rangers to watch, right up there with Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Assuming he makes the opening night roster, this will be his first full year with the team, and it should be quite the spectacle to watch him acclimate to his new role in the NHL.