WINNIPEG - Neal Pionk has always been a humble person, and even after signing a four-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets with an average annual value of $5.875 million, his close friends are making sure he stays that way.
"(They) think I'm overpaid," said Pionk with a laugh. "I'm just really excited that it worked out for both sides and I'm excited to be part of the team for the next four years."
The 26-year-old has played in 226 career NHL games, with two of his best seasons coming in a Jets jersey.
He leads all Jets defencemen in points (77) and assists (68) over those two seasons and is 13th and ninth among all NHL defencemen in those categories during that time span.
Pionk has been keeping an eye on not just his negotiations through the off-season, but all the transactions the Jets have been part of since the end of the 2021-22 campaign.
Of course, that means he's had to send some texts to faces heading out of Winnipeg - specifically to Derek Forbort (Pionk's main defensive partner this past season), Mathieu Perreault, and Tucker Poolman.
"That's the business side of the game that really sucks," Pionk said. "You become good friends with some of those guys and obviously we stayed in contact through the summer."
Video: VIDEO CALL | Neal Pionk
With those players moving on, the Jets have brought in Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt on the blue line.
Schmidt is someone Pionk is familiar with, as both played in Da Beauty League - an off-season summer hockey league in Minneapolis, MN - a few years ago.
"We've played together and against each other. We've had a couple short conversations," said Pionk. "When I say short, I mean he talked and I listened. You can never have enough Minnesota guys on the team, that's for sure."
He doesn't know Dillon as well, but knows him as a player "you hate playing against, but you want to have on your team."
With Forbort's departure, Pionk knows he'll have a new partner on the blue line. He doesn't know who that will be yet, but feels training camp will be the ideal spot to build chemistry.
"It may be something as little as having a conversation off the ice," said Pionk. "Not only that, but getting to know their tendencies on the ice - watching the littlest things that they do, maybe have a conversation about how you'd like to play a certain play, what plays they like to make with the puck.
"The faster you can build that chemistry, the better off you're going to be."
Video: SIGNED | Neal Pionk
Along with Schmidt and Dillon, Pionk now joins a large group of players on the Jets roster with contracts that span at least the next three seasons.
That group includes captain Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Connor Hellebuyck, and Adam Lowry as well.
Chasing success with that group made it even more enticing to sign on for four years.
"We have a winning window and I see us as contenders," Pionk said. "From a team perspective, we have a great chance to win. We've bolstered our blue line, obviously we know the forward group we have, and we have Helly in net. I think it increases our chance to win by a lot."
There is one other piece that makes signing this contract so exciting.
He'll get a chance to play in front of a full building in downtown Winnipeg, something he hasn't done since March of 2020.
"I know it's one of the loudest buildings in the league with a full capacity crowd, so I can't wait," Pionk said of Canada Life Centre. "I remember playing in the playoff game against Montreal when they let 500 healthcare workers in. Even with 500 people, I got chills going on the ice because it was the first time in however many months we had some fans in our home building and had some noise."