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Neal Pionk Going Pro; Golden Knights Appear In The Mix

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.

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.

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).

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.


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  1. Chris Neill

    I hope they can sign him.

  2. James

    @Ken Boehlke
    Gallant objected to the trades of defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson over the summer. He felt the Panthers sacrificed too much of their physical edge.

    What are the chances of signing them?

  3. RJ

    I like this move. Is he projected to be NHL ready this season? Or should we be looking for him in Chicago? And might that be a part of his decision?

  4. Jason Pothier

    Pionk isn’t expected to make the pro club this season. Should be a couple of seasons away. Gallant will be happy with his agressive nature. Howver, he’s not Gudbranson.

  5. Steve T.

    Has Reid Duke logged any minutes with the Wolves?

  6. PhiSig 150

    I’m surprised in a 7 round draft one team out there wouldn’t at least take a flier on him late. Dude got passed over 310 times. I hope he comes to us with a chip on his shoulder, a fire to prove the original 30 wrong, and goes HAM on the league. That would be a pretty badass nickname: Mini HAM.

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