– The buzz is building around rookie Neal Pionk. On Monday Gordie Clark gushed about Pionk’s offensive abilities and said he thought Pionk might “shine” when given the chance to play with legit NHLers at camp. And last week prospect guru Corey Pronman chose Pionk as his young player to watch at camp for the Blueshirts in a piece for The Athletic:
There is always a bit of hesitance on my part projecting old college free agents to the NHL, and in Pionk’s case I don’t get overly excited over a 22-year-old defenseman without a history of high-level performance. However, I’ve talked to scouts that watched him in college who feel he could be as good as Troy Stecher was for Vancouver this past season (which was quite good) and potentially provide that kind of offensive spark to the Rangers. I want to see it first before feeling as confident, so I’m looking for him to blow doors down at camp.
Pionk’s path to the pros is pretty murky right now given the glut of defensemen, but he may be heard from later in the season.
– One domino many have been waiting on is Nick Holden – who appears to have lost his job in the top six. But while the Blueshirts might like to deal Holden and rid themselves of his cap hit, that’s a lot easier said than done. The Vegas Knights are in a similar spot with way too many veteran defensemen and nowhere to unload them. Maybe the demand will change if a few teams realize their youngsters aren’t ready for the leap once camps get underway, or injuries strike during the season. But for now, it seems like Holden will begin the season in the press box, or in an awkward rotation with Alexei Bereglazov and/or Anthony DeAngelo.
– The roll-of-the-dice options at center continue to dwindle with Daniel Winnik the latest depth pivot to ink a PTO with the Wild. It’s not that Winnik, John Mitchell, Jay McClement or any of the other scrap heap centers that were available this summer were the obvious answers to New York’s prayers, but they are bodies with NHL experience that could lift some of the pressure off Lias Andersson.
Right now the Blueshirts desperately need him to win a job out of camp – a lofty request for an 18-year-old in his draft year that’s brand new to North America and adjusting to a smaller playing surface. This isn’t a question of Andersson’s ability or future value, it’s about what’s reasonable to expect of a teenager. Like any rookie, Andersson is sure to experience growing pains. And that’s fine – but only if Andersson really proves he’s up for this both mentally and physically and Alain Vigneault is willing to live with his learning curve. If it’s not in the best interest of both Andersson’s long-term development and the 2017-2018 Rangers, than forcing him into the lineup would be a mistake. So I’m not advocating for bringing in another center to steal Andersson’s job – this is about having a security blanket so that if Andersson happens to be in over his head, New York can make the smart decision for one of their most important assets.
– Speaking of reinforcements – what’s going on with Danis Zaripov? For someone that’s been as productive as he has to be available this late in the summer is pretty rare, and yet there’s been mostly silence on his courtship after the initial rumor flurry. Zaripov wouldn’t solve New York’s woes at center, but he’d certainly give them more offensive depth down the wings – which wouldn’t hurt with Jesper Fast ailing and Matt Puempel currently looking likely to dress on opening night.
– That leads to the other appealing option – at least to fans – Jaromir Jagr. While No. 68 is a legend and beloved by the hockey world, I’m not really surprised he doesn’t seem to be on New York’s radar. As strong as he still is with the puck, Jagr just can’t skate at the pace the Rangers want to play. To me, that was Derek Stepan’s biggest issue – despite everything else he brought to the table. The Blueshirts want to play quick, move the puck up ice and kill teams in transition. That’s just not Jagr’s game in 2017.
– Depending on his health and workload, Henrik Lundqvist should move into seventh place on the all-time wins this season, and in good position to leapfrog Terry Sawchuk and Curtis Joseph next year. Roberto Luongo is going to be tough to catch as long as he’s active, but it seems like a timeshare will slow his pace dramatically. Ed Belfour might take a bit more time, but is also catchable. The only two guys that are really out of reach are Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. But getting 79 more wins to lock himself into third behind that duo before his career ends seems achievable for The King. The Cup will always loom, but if Hank is able to secure his spot among those legends on the wins list, it should really help his legacy. And yes, I know wins are a little different now given the revised overtime formats – but history pays little mind to these types of details.
1) What do you think Pionk would have to do to make the team?
2) What would you be offering, if anything, to Zaripov?
3) Where do you think Lundqvist will finish on the wins list?