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Jets' defenceman Neal Pionk on filling big shoes and coming to the team as a champion
It’s safe to say there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on new Jets’ defenceman Neal Pionk to begin the regular season.
The reasoning is two-fold:
- The dismantling of the Jets’ blue line because of free agency, trades, and a leave of absence, and;
- The fact that he was part of the package the team received when it shipped veteran Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers.
Whether it’s fair or not, the 24-year-old will always be associated with Trouba because of that transaction, and as a result, his play will be under a microscope.
And he’s just fine with that.
"It's part of the business,” he said. “Happens to everybody around the league. Just deal with it like a pro, and go about your business day to day."
The makeup of the defence is different this season: less size and grit, and more skating and puck movement, which Pionk has shown is in his wheelhouse.
"Neal's a real smart guy,” said head coach Paul Maurice. ”He plays a version of Josh Morrissey's game, very efficient, touches pucks, puts them in the right spot, and then he reads his own end really, really well. That's kind of that steady, veteran guy."
He’s also a champion.
"I made my debut this year in Da Beauty League, and won a championship,” said Pionk, a product of Hermantown, Minn. “Looking forward to next year.”
Da Beauty League, established in the fall of 2015, sees pros of all different levels play on six teams through the months of July and August in Edina, Minn.
"It's just a fun summer league for pros around the Minneapolis area to get together and have a few laughs and get some ice time."
Pionk scored a goal and added an assist for Team TRIA, as they won an 8-7 thriller over Team RBC in the league final on Aug. 21. That earned them the right to hoist the John Scott Cup, named for the 2016 NHL All-Star game MVP.
“I think it's a big keg or something,” he said. “But it's more bragging rights than anything over the summer."
After that big game experience over the summer, Pionk played big minutes in his Jets debut. He was on the ice for more than 23 minutes, nearly six of them on the power play and penalty kill, and feels comfortable filling a larger role with the team.
"Yeah absolutely, I mean I'm comfortable in any role the coach gives me,” he said.
The Jets lost their season opener 6-4 to the Rangers, and look to bounce back against the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.