NCAA runner-up Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Neal Pionk finally announced his intentions to forego his college eligibility and turn pro. After weeks of deliberation the sophomore decided to leave Duluth to pursue a career in the NHL.
Minnesota-Duluth D Neal Pionk decided to leave school and go pro. Free agent. Process begins this week and there will be a lot of interest.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 17, 2017
We profiled Pionk last month after the Golden Knights had reportedly shown interest in the college free agent. He went undrafted in the Entry Draft ultimately because of his 5’11″/181 pound stature. Now, after dominating on the NCAA level, teams are looking past height and more on Pionk’s high level skill. As a two-way, puck moving defenseman with a hard shot, NHL teams are ready to make offers.
He’s good in his own zone. But when you watch him, what stands out is how good his shot is, and he can score with it. He’s got a Shea Weber quality to him with the shot. Just got a missile. – Dave Starman, ESPN College Hockey analyst and scout
Vegas has the opportunity to take a risk on a player that was passed over by all 30 clubs. Last week, I asked Kelly McKrimmon a few questions about Pionk and other college prospects. He wouldn’t comment directly, but confirmed they’re still on the scouting trail of college free agents.
I know that we’ve had real good coverage. We’ve targeted a very small number. To be honest with you, we haven’t cast a wide net. -Kelly McKrimmon, Assistant General Manager
Sounds a lot like what McPhee told me in early March, they are focused much more on the Expansion and Entry drafts and have specifically targeted very few college free agents. Hence, a month and a half later, Reid Duke is still the undisputed greatest Golden Knight of all time.
Meanwhile college free agents are being signed left and right by the Original 30, and some have even seen the NHL ice. The Golden Knights were never rumored to be interested in any of them. However, when there name Neal Pionk comes up, the word Vegas tends to find it’s way into the story.
— Pro Hockey Rumors (@prohockeyrumors) April 17, 2017
The Duluth News Tribune reported Pionk will speak with NHL teams this week, as the Golden Knights apparently have some competition. The native Minnesotan told the newspaper a “fair amount” of teams are waiting to discuss his future.
It will be process. It will take a few days. –Neal Pionk, UMD defenseman
If Pionk is one of the few players the Golden Knights are scouting, they’ll likely go hard after him. As the second player signed, Pionk would continue the buzz created by Gerard Gallant in Las Vegas, he’ have plenty of time to develop and grow, and the Golden Knights would create some much needed organizational depth (it’s a joke, lay off).
"Hardest decision of my life."
UMD So. D Neal Pionk confirms he is leaving the Bulldogs and turning pro. He'll begin process this week.
— Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) April 17, 2017
— Barrett Anderson (@The_BarrettA) April 18, 2017
As a 21 year-old USHL and NCAA alum, Pionk is one of the more mature prospects out there. His speed, skating ability and offensive skill overshadows his size. Two-way, right-handed defensemen are always worth a look. Plus, Pionk has a mean streak that head coach Gerard Gallant will appreciate.
Now that Pionk has made it official don’t be surprised if McPhee makes an offer. We can all agree 5’11 is small for an NHL defenseman but it’s just another low risk option for Vegas. Plus let’s be serious Pionk will be fine, he’ll be paired up with a bully like Deryk Englland or Josh Manson.