2019 Rangers Player Report Card: Neal Pionk

When the Ranger signed Neal Pionk as an undrafted free agent, he was viewed as one of their better undrafted free agent signings in a while. After a 28-game late season stint with the Rangers in 2017-2018, Pionk played his first full professional season this year, and got off to a very hot start. But even with the points, it was clear from the start that Pionk was struggling mightily. When the bottom started falling out, Pionk’s game away from the puck began to show more clearly, and by the end of the season became very obvious to all fans.

It was interesting, though, seeing the perception of Pionk evolve throughout the season. In November I ran this post comparing Pionk to Tony DeAngelo, and most preferred Pionk. Now it is May, and it seems to be an almost unanimous preference to DeAngelo now. And it isn’t unwarranted.

Pionk had easily the worst numbers in the non-Staal division. His xGF% of 45.04 barely beats out Staal’s 45.93, and is almost two full percentage points behind the third worst Brady Skjei. His splits were a measily 1.96 xGF/60 and a horrible 2.94 xGA/60. Not only is he not generating even strength offense, he’s a black hole on defense. It’s worth noting that his 6-20-26 line was actually just 2-7-9 at even strength, with only one primary assist. Three primary points at even strength is simply not good.

Yet despite all this, David Quinn inexplicably kept using him as a 1RD both at even strength and on the penalty kill. I want to focus primarily on that impact and his impact on the powerplay, since he’s been relied upon by this coaching staff in both scenarios. First the powerplay with Pionk:

It’s not like the Rangers had a good powerplay, but this is exceptionally bad with a vacuum in front when Pionk is up top, which lets us reason that shots simply aren’t getting through from the point and the puck movement is lacking.

Now a grain of salt is required, as this became the top powerplay unit after DeAngelo took it over. More shots from in front. Significantly higher threat level. Just overall better. Pionk on the powerplay is likely not the best solution. But if he’s ok on the penalty kill, then we should be good, right?

Oh dear god my eyes.

Ok this is better. It’s not great, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, this pair only needs a few: Keep Pionk and Staal off the penalty kill.

The good news is that Pionk still has room for improvement. Aside from the fact this was his first pro year, his numbers were so bad the only place to go is up. As the Rangers get more stable and better players, it will push Pionk down the lineup into a third pairing role without significant PK time. I’m intrigued to see if that, coupled with a full year of adjustments under his belt, he improves.

That said, if the choice is keeping him or DeAngelo the answer is easy.

Grade: D

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  • The discussion should be whether to qualify Pionk or just let him walk.

    If you qualify and trade, what are you getting for a below replacement level defender? If you retake n 50%, are you getting a 5th?

    Any retained salary for him would handcuff Gorton’s hands this year, so I’d figure that’s a no. So a 6 or 7th? They got him for nothing, so it beats nothing, but not by much.

    • It’s astonishing that Pionk led ALL Ranger players with TOI per game virtually tied with Skjei. How does management NOT qualify this guy? He shouldn’t be, but how does Gorton/Quinn justify a move like that?

      Judging by his game by game usage he appears to be on this team next season, UNLESS, Gorton pulls the rug from Quinn and sends him packing as he did with McLeod and McQuaid.

  • Pionk will be traded at the draft, as a part of a package deal. He served his purpose for a period of time when we were in dire need of a right D. Now that ADA has shown he can play, Adam Fox being traded for, and Shatty pants still on the payroll, he needs to go, like ASAP!!!!!!!!!!!

  • First month or 2, including that fabulous end to end goal, B.

    The rest? F-.

    So yeah, about a D overall.

  • Good Morning Men….What Tony says… Pionk is not NHL material but he helped us get the #2 so we got our value for him lol

    • lol, he’s bad for sure.

      But what’s alarming is that the Rangers seem to like him. I hope that getting Fox puts Pionk on the trade block. Addition by subtraction at this point.

      • Absolutely ….Very alarming…Pionk played more than Chris Chelios ever did…I hope it was to tank but Im afraid thats is prob not the case

    • I gotta say, if the price to get him as damaged goods for a bridge to the future is low enough, it’s worth listening.

      3 years left on his deal, the Rangers won’t need most of that money over that time and at year 44 they’ll have tons of headroom to work with. Even if the third year gets ugly health wise, you just LTIR off the roster.

      Next year’s 1st and a 2nd from this year?

  • While the threat numbers may or may not be interesting, the Ranger power play scored most effectively when Pionk was on the ice. That is a simple indisputable fact. His numbers were better than Zibanejad’s and light years ahead of his fellow defensemen. The threat numbers suggest that his effectiveness is not sustainable (assuming counting threats is both attainable and meaningful), but his success this year should be acknowledged.

    On the other hand, if you count goals when Pionk was on the PK, you get the same picture as the threat picture paints. Things were bleak.

    We may have a misconception about Pionk’s future with this team. RD are needed and the fling with Pionk may just have been wishful thinking — with Fox and ADA and, at least for now Shattenkirk, Pionk is no longer needed and so the time for pretend is over.

    • I’m with Ray here…

      I think he is one-dimensional as a d-man. He can’t defend and that’s the shame of it. But it’s not like he was just awful the entire season. He had some legit good spurts of hockey this past season. Who didn’t love the spin-o-rama — end-to-end rush? It isn’t his fault the coach kept giving him ice-time.

      As for ADA, well he looks like he could be a sleeper next season. I found myself saying to the TV, “just give the puck to DeAngelo,” to settle things down. And I definitely didn’t feel that way at the beginning of the season. He’s come a very long way, and was prob our best d-man at the end of the season.

      Quinn played this thing very well though. He gave both a fair chance to step up and ADA did. Seems about right to me for a coach to give Pionk a longer leash than DeAngelo just based on their off-ice histories. I would think ADA needed a little tougher love to get him in the right level and ice-time is the only way to do that.

      Anyone else here think Lias is gonna have a hard time making the team again this season?

      • Yes…I do….hence Im not gonna be surprised if he is dealt…..also I don’t think you give ice time to an inferior player because he is well behaved off the ice

      • I think in thinking about Lias that thinkng about ADA might be instructive.

        When AV was here, ADA was not given a decent amount of coaching and was booted to the AHL unceremoniously. He came back and was given a lot of press box time this year until improvement showed he deserved more ice time, and with more ice time his confidence and his play improved even more. A lot of people wrote ADA off initially and it seems that they were premature.

        Lias wasent down to Hartford a couple of times. First time back he didn’t look confident, instead looking hesitant and he was sent back down. When he came back again he played better. Not great but better. If he makes the club out of camp for next season, which I suspect he might, then we will see if he makes a leap in his play like ADA did. At this point I think it remains to be seen whether Lias will be a NHL player or not. I think some more development time is in order.

        Pionk is a young player who is still learning. He was played too much early on. He could improve his play in the defensive zone like ADA has started to do, or he may never get better. It is also a case where the player is still developing.

        There are players who you know right away whether or not they are going to stick and there are others who take a little more time to blossom.

        • If we bring in a UFA Kakko Krav and we keep Kreider…There may not be any room for Lias….Pionk will be 24 in July…he is prob 3″ shorter than he is listed as and cannot play a lick of defense

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