EDINA, Minn. -- Neal Pionk said he is ready for the challenge of taking on a bigger role this season, his third in the NHL and first with the Winnipeg Jets.
"I'm excited for it," the 24-year-old defenseman said Wednesday after his team won the championship of Da Beauty League, a 3-on-3 summer league for players with ties to Minnesota. "Especially now that we're getting close to training camp with a new team and a new locker room, it's going to be great. I'm ready to show them what I can do, I'm just excited for it."
The Jets acquired Pionk and a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft in a trade with the New York Rangers for defenseman Jacob Trouba on June 17. Pionk agreed to a two-year contract with the Jets on July 21, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing.
Pionk will look to bolster the Jets at defenseman after they lost not only Trouba, but also Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot as free agents. Trouba had 50 points (eight goals, 42 assists) in 82 games last season. Myers, who had 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists), signed a five-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1. Chiarot, who had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 78 games, signed a three-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens on July 4.
"[Trouba and Myers] are two great players," said Pionk, who had 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) and was minus-16 in 73 games for the Rangers last season. "And I think it's exciting to have an opportunity to grow my game and be a go-to guy and get time on special teams if that's what the coach wants. I think I can transition into [Winnipeg's] speed game whether that's myself skating or getting the puck up to the forwards at a quick, fast pace.
"I'm just looking to step into whatever role is needed of me."
Video: MTL@NYR: Pionk goes coast to coast for beautiful goal
The Jets have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons, losing in the Western Conference Final to the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18 and in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues last season.
"The whole complexion of the team is a recipe for success," said Pionk, who played two seasons at the University of Minnesota Duluth before agreeing to a two-year contract with the Rangers on May 1, 2017. "They're fast and they're big, and that's a good combo, so that's really exciting. They know what success is like, and they still have the core of a team that has helped achieve a lot of that success. I think once we get into training camp, we will be able to see how strong of a team this is, and I think it's one that can do some really great things. It's exciting."