Rangers sign undrafted free agent defenseman Neal Pionk

neal pionk
Photo: Getty

Per Elliotte Friedman, the Rangers have made a big splash in the undrafted free agent market. They have signed defenseman Neal Pionk of Minnesota-Duluth to en entry level deal, a much sought after UDFA. Josh profiled him last month, and that’s definitely worth the read. For the cliff notes version: Pionk is a right handed puck moving defenseman that put up 34 (7-27-34) points in 42 games as one of the NCAA’s top scoring defensemen. He was also a second team All Star.

Pionk, at 6’0 and 190 lbs, plays with a bit of a mean streak as well. While his joy for laying people out with open ice hits can cause him to be out of position from time to time, Pionk is a three-zone defenseman who piqued the interest of most of the league. He will need some seasoning, having just completed his sophomore season, but this is a big time win for the Rangers in landing him.

I’m going to open up a can of worms here, but between Alexei Bereglazov, Radim Simek, and now Pionk, there’s some change coming to the Rangers’ blue line.

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69 thoughts on “Rangers sign undrafted free agent defenseman Neal Pionk

  • May 1, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    I never heard of this guy, but if he plays all 3 zones, and has an edge, welcome aboard. Maybe we as an organization have come to the realization that a man like Smith proved we need an edge to our defense, which is an ice capaides style game at best!!!!!!

    • May 1, 2017 at 3:14 pm

      Oh, as to your point about changes coming next season, relative to the defense, well it’s about time don’t you think????????

  • May 1, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Can he play for Holden tomorrow night?

    • May 1, 2017 at 3:32 pm

      God bless, R-dork.

      It’s as if AV’s afflicted with some type of neuro/personality disorder, resorting to Holden, sitting Brendan Smith, et al, as a display of self-sabotaging/self-destructive behavior.

      What we’re witnessing is a more broad, less personal kind of self mutilation: rather than cut himself, AV lays waste to the life around him, the defining personal-professional goal those around him, his charges seek.

      Not even Islander troll Bryan Trottier behind the bench could sabotage us in such a subtly nefarious way.

      We’re so f++ked.

      • May 1, 2017 at 3:46 pm

        Yeah, sure does. That’s why all these kids CHOOSE to sign here. They must all want to play for a kid-hating coach that will suck the life out of them.

        Makes for a great tale…even though its undoubtedly factually inaccurate.

        • May 1, 2017 at 4:36 pm

          3E, I really appreciate your posts on this blog, they are most of the time insightful and knowledgeable, but your blanket defense of AV has no merit. I do not consider him to be a bad coach, or a coach who hates young players, but he is a very stubborn coach who is unwilling/non-capable of adapting, who makes the same “questionable” player deployments time after time after time. He will never win a cup, not with the Rangers nor any other team.

          • May 1, 2017 at 4:51 pm

            I appreciate your kind words. But I have to differ on “blanket defense” of AV. I said in several posts that he absolutely has to accept criticism for what happened in Game 2, just like he should get praise for the wins vs Montreal in Games 4-6, right? I’m just trying to be fair here. There were lots of reasons we lost that game. IMO, the coaching decisions were about 15th on my top ten. But he certainly didnt have his finest hour as Rangers coach Saturday.

            As for the rest…

            1) stubborn? yes he is. Most are. Torts was even more so when he was here. That was apparently a positive trait when Torts was here. Not so much now.

            2) Never win a Cup? Be careful. “Never” is a long time. The same things were said about Coach Q…until he got to Chicago and was handed one of the most talented rosters ever. It was said about “Clueless” Joe Torre, until he did. Some thought Keenan would never win until he got a star-studded roster in NY. In NY at least, AV has spoiled us, getting far more out of his flawed roster than Torts got out of his. The Rangers are a good but not great team that delivers good but not great results. Let’s see what happens when and if Gorton delivers a roster that can legitimately compete with the big boys for a Cup.

            • May 1, 2017 at 5:33 pm

              As you know I do not consider AV a good coach because of his many blunders…. including benching arguably 2 of his best 3 defensemen and 2nd best center and two pairs of young legs in the last 30? minutes of a crucial stanley cup game.
              And his excuse ‘ i lost them on the bench’ will go down in the annals of idiotic sports comments…was unforgivable…
              If Lou Lamoriello was the GM there would be a chance he would have replaced him by the next game!
              There is no defending this!!!!
              You are correct about joe torre etc …needing players to win , HOWEVER , AV has gone into the playoffs ate least 3 times with presidents cup [ best team] winners and stanley cup favorites! And how many times with good talent…..The bruins were BIG underdogs the year they beat AV canuks…..and the following year the canuks were picked to win it all based on talent!!!!
              Point being AV is a perennial underachiever in the playoffs!!!

              • May 1, 2017 at 5:54 pm

                Spot on and well stated Rich

              • May 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm

                Rich, RGLV:
                I’ve consulted with Dr. Walt, and Paul Ronty on this one, namely Eddiex3’s condition.

                The diagnosis, clearly, ineffably, without a doubt is Stockholm Syndrome.

                Eddie’s psychological symptoms reflect that of a captive, or hostage; such as Patty Hearst (1974) and Elizabeth Smart (2002).

                Dr Walt and Ronty recognize the paradoxical emotional bond Eddiex3 has developed with AV, his psychological captor.

                Rather than us–the rational if occasionally sober–Eddiex3 displays wildly irrational, inexplicably positive feelings toward his criminally minded captor, our bench boss.

                Let’s all take a knee.

                Dr. Walt, lead us in prayer.

              • May 1, 2017 at 6:43 pm

                Six playoff series wins in four Springs as Rangers coach.

                Double what Torts did in five springs.

                One more than Francis did in TEN Springs (with FAR, FAR more talent).

                That pretty much throws cold water on your argument that he’s a playoff underachiever. That would be Barry Trotz. Or Torts post-lockout.

                As for the President’s Trophy argument, it’s fair. But you do realize that roughly 75% of teams that win the regular season FAIL to win the Cup. So this is hardly unusual.

                And I’m no expert on the Canucks, but he was beat in ’11 because his PP failed him, his goalie failed him, and Thomas had arguably the greatest playoff series in modern times.

                In ’12, yeah, not good. But he lost to a team that came together late and rolled to the SC, doing it again two years later. A mini-dynasty. It’s not like he lost to a bad team.

                In ’15, we all saw that, and that was ALL because of the injuries. Frankly, it was miraculous we got as far as we did.

                AV isn’t perfect. But Gorton realizes that with a coach like AV, you fire him and the likely scenario is, we go back to being the borderline playoff team (if that) we mostly were under Torts.

                The grass is rarely greener on the other side.

            • May 1, 2017 at 6:15 pm

              The great coaches are not stubborn E3. They are flexible and adapt to the situation at hand. They don’t force a square peg into a round hole. They don’t continue to bang their heads against the same wall expecting different results. I hope when the season ends real house cleaning is done.
              G or Staal or both should be bought out and neither one should be with the team next year.Smith re signed . Graves is given a fair chance to make the big club as well as all of the new FA signings. I say don’t sign Shattenkrik because he doesn’t get us the cup (see Washington’s troubles). So don’t tie up all that money on a good but not great one way defenseman.
              A deal should be worked out to move Stepan for a good package that helps us. A right handed or left defenseman would be nice. If not expose him to the expansion draft and make a deal with LV. If Lindbergh isn’t hurt then his benching in game two is defensible. That’s not just stubbornness it’s stupid.

              • May 1, 2017 at 7:36 pm


                Now join Nicky, and Paul, along myself to a paison prayer. Lord get rid of this piece of horse crap, thank you!!!!!!!!!!

              • May 1, 2017 at 10:15 pm

                Hey Harlem, was Keenan a great coach?

                He almost totally lost the room on that Cup run, repeatedly benched Leetch, yanked Richter at the first sign of trouble, and generally was a stubborn SOB who believed, to a fault, in sending messages to his players even with the game on the line. Messier basically had to demand that he stop benching good players. He makes AV’s stubbornness look like child’s play, and he still led them to a Cup.

          • May 2, 2017 at 1:11 pm

            The grass is always greener.. I think AV has done a marvelous job with a roster that has no true superstar (you could make the case for McD), has a defense that is slow and has issues getting the puck out (great defensive players tho, staal and girardi have some of the best sticks in the NHL still, Skjei will be amazing), and plays in the toughest division in the NHL.

    • May 1, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      we pray

      • May 1, 2017 at 6:46 pm


        The underlying causes of E3s Stockholm Syndrome. He’s quivering like a man about to fight Dylan McIlrath. He’d rather fight Holden & have Depends Syndrome.

        • May 1, 2017 at 9:02 pm

          Bring back the Undertaker!!!

          • May 2, 2017 at 12:25 am

            That’s gospel, soul brother Bobby B.

          • May 2, 2017 at 10:06 am

            Imagine if he & Skjei had played as a pair all year. Instead we get a coach who thinks Holden is good & sits Clendo on the bench. Great decision making. Back to praying.

      • May 1, 2017 at 7:38 pm

        LOL! sorry I didn’t include you in my prayer, forgive me for I have sinned!!!!!!!!

        • May 2, 2017 at 12:26 am

          Ten Hail Mary’s and five Our Father’s, Coach Walt.

  • May 1, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    Hopefully he doesn’t score too many goals, or break up too many 3 on 1 breaks, or else AV will bench him.

  • May 1, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    beginning to wonder if we may see a few other surprises. Like Girardi, Klein and Staal and Holden all out next season… The Girardi buyout will hurt, but if Pionk comes in make the max $925K and Bereglazov comes in and makes the max entry level contract$925 and you are younger and a the cheap contracts will neutralize the hit. Work a deal with Vegas to take Staal and buyout Klein too, or give him away. Then resign Smith and Shattenkirk and you look like
    Mc D Shatt
    Skeji Smith
    Bereglazov Pionk

    I can dream right?

    • May 1, 2017 at 5:12 pm

      Not impossible. Who knows? But, it’s not an easy jump to become an NHL defenseman. I cant imagine your third pair guys would start the season with the big club.

      It would be shocking if Clendo is retained. He may not even be an NHL player next year.

      As for Shattenkirk, he’s had a miserable playoff. I wonder if this doesn’t give Gorton and other teams pause for thought. I don’t know if it’s a slam dunk any more that he come here. On the other hand, a bad playoff might mean we get him cheaper and for less years.

      • May 1, 2017 at 5:57 pm

        I have to agree Eddie. I have watched as much Caps/Pens as I possibly can with the Caps game being on opposite the Rangers. So far, Shattenkirk has been at best unremarkable, and often much worse.

      • May 1, 2017 at 6:20 pm

        E3 I say no on Shattenkirk.

        • May 1, 2017 at 7:02 pm

          He’s coming, get used to it my friend.

          • May 1, 2017 at 7:10 pm

            I know you have your sources, and I’m not against it. But are you sure that’s still the case?. He’s been brutal. Hasn’t he been a 3rd pair guy in Was? In NY more will be expected. Are you sure?

            Again, maybe we can get him cheaper now. 🙂

            • May 1, 2017 at 7:20 pm

              2 independent people I know said “done deal” and Adrian Dater, who broke the last lock out story, tweeted that “everyone knows that Shatty is signing with the Rangers.” He tweeted that a couple of weeks ago.

              Let’s put it this way, did Shatty tell me himself? No. But the people who told me that Vesey was signing a month before he signed are telling this about Shatty.

              • May 1, 2017 at 7:26 pm

                I trust you sources. Hopefully, he will play better than he has for the Washington Generals (oops Caps).

              • May 1, 2017 at 7:41 pm

                He’s sabotaging the Caps for the Rangers, lol.

              • May 1, 2017 at 8:49 pm

                Now you’re talking! 🙂

              • May 2, 2017 at 12:30 pm

                Brotherman: With all due respect, this man-love thing for Shattenkirk… dude, it’s gotta end.

                He’s conspicuous for his mediocrity. What I’ve seen of Shattenkirk this playoffs is lack of finish. Inattentiveness. Near zero presence.

                Please, Richter: end it.

                St. Lou got wise. Their brain trust couldn’t help but notice Shattenkirk’s discernible decline. Reflexively they cut him loose for a decent return, and bumped up younger, smarter D-men.

                Let it go, paisan. Please. Go see Doc Ronty for some psychotherapy.

                At this point, MDZ’s got more game than Shattenkirk. Josh Manson. Marco Scandella. Lindholm. Vatanen.

      • May 1, 2017 at 7:41 pm


        Even on the cheap, Shatty isn’t worth it, he is way over rated, just watch his game !!!!!!

        • May 1, 2017 at 9:00 pm

          Agreed Walt

        • May 2, 2017 at 12:33 pm

          Thank you, Walt.

          I’m planning An Intervention on our man Richter for his Shattenkirk/Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior. (See above.)

          Doc Ronty’s ‘gonna administer a regimen of ECT: Electroshock Therapy. It’s making a comeback.

    • May 1, 2017 at 5:19 pm

      I would sign up for that now even without ever seeing if Bereglazov and Pionk knew how to skate!!!

  • May 1, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    I think the only shocking thing is the 23 year old guy who comprised one half of the NHL’s best d-pairing through the first tenth of the season (and preseason as well) is currently toiling in Siberia, rather than rightfully assuming his place next to McD.

    Ok I lied, it’s not the only shocking thing the Rangers have done this year. Point remains though; if we can’t recognize the talent we have (even kampfire would be an upgrade over Holden at this point), then what hope do we have of fixing these problems?

  • May 1, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    we had one of those mean guys…..Dylan McIlwath…

    • May 1, 2017 at 6:46 pm

      3rd pair AHL minor leaguer. Not an NHL player at the moment.

      • May 1, 2017 at 7:03 pm

        lol (lots of love)

      • May 1, 2017 at 9:08 pm

        Eddie, keep putting down McILLRTAH, the time he was used on a regular basis, he was a very serviceable player for us. Nick Holden is a mess, does not belong on the playoff roster, they guy is a train wreck. He is constantly out of position, and always seems to loose his stick. Give me McLLRATH on his worse day, still way better than Nick Holden..

        • May 1, 2017 at 10:19 pm

          And yet he toils in Florida’s minor league system.

          • May 1, 2017 at 11:47 pm

            Actually Detroit. Hard to keep track actually. He’s on the Adam Clendening plan of bouncing from team to team. 🙂

            • May 2, 2017 at 12:12 am

              Forgot about that. Interestingly, Detroit dealt for him right after flipping Smith.

              We get Smith, they get McIlrath. I’ll take that any day.

          • May 2, 2017 at 10:09 am

            Does he? Shows how much you know.

        • May 2, 2017 at 12:26 am

          A traffic cone mounted to a roomba would make a better defender than Hodor at the moment. Just glue a stick to it (maybe some duct tape as well?), and bam, you’re good to go.

          • May 2, 2017 at 9:35 am

            now thats funny!

          • May 2, 2017 at 10:10 am

            HAHAHA!!!! And AV on the bench wetting his Depends, watching IT.

  • May 1, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    Trading Places: “The Dukes are cornering the market on frozen orange juice. Let’s get in on it.”

  • May 1, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    I’m one of little faith, but I’m already pissed off at tomorrow’s game…I’m too old for this aggravation

  • May 1, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Matt Niskanen almost takes Sid head off but he did lay him out with a cross check.

  • May 1, 2017 at 10:20 pm

    Even though he has done little to refute the rangers, I feel like McIlwrath was, at the absolute bare minimum, a better option than what remains of the rusty anchors AV insists upon throwing out there.

    • May 1, 2017 at 10:26 pm

      Not even close. Despite the dumb play now and again, Staal and Holden are mobile and move the puck. Things McIlrath is incapable of. I love the kid, and wanted nothing but success for him, but he just never rose to the occasion.

      • May 2, 2017 at 10:13 am

        Holden is mobile? Time for you to see an optometrist. He’s an Igor Ulanov statue in the D-zone. And Staal is not the most mobile guy either.

  • May 1, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    So much for the reply button, lol

  • May 1, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    Caps just blew a 2 goal lead with less than 2 minutes. That Trotz, he’s a f!@#ing clown!

    • May 2, 2017 at 7:15 am

      The difference is his team won!!!! What’s Clarabelle’s record in these PO’s when he goes into his defensive shell, 0-2, now who’s the clown?????????

  • May 1, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    I don’t understand…. do you seriously mean to imply that, just because a highly talented team choked on a hot dog, somehow trotting out an inefficient lineup that isn’t utilized well at all (see: deployments of Hodor/Staal/G/24 & 89 last game (oh hell, the entire season with 89)) is totally OK for a coach to do? That the failure of the Caps has (anything whatsoever) to do with the Madness that is ALIEN BINGO?

    Why do people assume that, just because other teams make (insanely idiotic) decisions, we should continue to accept the utterly indefensible & easily fixable nonsense which AV continues to do!??!?!?

    • May 1, 2017 at 11:14 pm

      I don’t disagree that AV made some mistakes with deployments yesterday. Do I want to see Skjei/Smith out there much more than Staal/Holden? Absolutely. Do I want Lindberg to play more and see us roll 4 true lines? Absolutely.

      But I don’t necessarily think Skjei is THE guy (yet) to put out there to protect a lead, either. To be honest, at this point, at that point in the game, especially after giving up the 4th goal, I’d juggle the pairings and try to get McDonagh/Smith out there for the final minute.

      Point is, I’m not convinced personnel deployments directly led to the loss. Guys didn’t execute. Same happened to the Caps tonight, but they got the good break in OT. Rangers didn’t. Not much more to it than that.

      • May 1, 2017 at 11:24 pm

        The only way I see player deployments being irrelevant in those last six minutes is if you assume that the outcome would have been the same regardless. Which, strangely enough, may not be entirely untrue…. TurtleTime works for no one.

        (except maybe the guys who’d get the royalties on the deal MSG needs to make so they can play that stupid theme song during the last few minutes of the game).

  • May 1, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    Also, I’d reply to your post above Chris, but I can’t get it to work at the moment. In response to what you said about dylan, i’ll say this; if you look at last year’s numbers, the McIlwrath/Yandle pairing was one of the few not involving McD that was actually a net positive on the ice for driving shot attempts.

    Here’s a small excerpt from an article on nerdhockey.

    “We can trace back a lot of McIlrath’s struggles on the relative scoring chances for % metric by utilizing Corsica.Hockey’s combos tool. When partnered with Dan Boyle, a truly atrocious pairing that was used by AV, McIlrath would see a relative scoring chances for % of -14.38%. This pairing was responsible for a 12.15 scoring chances against per 60. Compare this to the pairing of Yandle-McIlrath, which only allowed 7.49 scoring chances against per 60. Compare this to the three pairings that Girardi would skate more than 50 minutes with last season (McDonagh, Yandle, and Staal), which featured scoring chances against per 60 of 11.07, 11.91, and 12.74 respectively.”

    I can go on further if necessary, but if you’re interested, the fancy stats heavily disagree with ye.

    • May 1, 2017 at 11:19 pm

      But, aside from playing with Yandle, McIlrath has never had those metrics, not in Hartford, not paired with other Rangers, not in Florida, not with Springfield. So, sounds like Yandle carried him. Nothing more.

      • May 1, 2017 at 11:26 pm

        Still better than the crap they continue to heave upon us all

      • May 2, 2017 at 10:16 am

        You know Shite my man, he played great in Sporingfield, ask Geordie Kinnear the coach.

        • May 2, 2017 at 11:12 am

          He’s a solid enough 3rd pair AHL defenseman…no argument there.

          Usually, If that’s all he is at age 25, that doesnt bode well for any kind of meaningful future stint in the NHL. But hey, you never know. What I do know is, he’s not a kid anymore and his time is running out.

  • May 1, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    Trade Stepan to NJ for the rights to Ilya K. And we had our Superstar Stud Center. A line of ILYA, Krieder and Buchnevich yeah feeling that.

  • May 4, 2017 at 9:36 am

    BIG TIME CHANGE on the horizon!

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