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Monday's Game More Than Just a Preseason Tilt for Andersson, Pionk

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Monday night at Madison Square Garden is much more than just a preseason game for rookies Lias Andersson and Neal Pionk.

The two first-year players will make their Rangers preseason debuts tonight against the Islanders at The Garden, and both said emotions and excitement would be running high.

"It's going to be fun," Andersson said. "Something I've been dreaming about my whole life. I'm going to get goosebumps out there at the warmups." 

Pionk, who signed with the Rangers out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth last spring, said he was "pretty excited" about skating at The Garden after attending one Ranger game during the playoffs last season.

Even more so for Pionk is the chance for him to skate alongside captain Ryan McDonagh, whom he said has been a source of information during the early days of camp.

"It's awesome. It's been a really great experience," Pionk said. "He's helped me out so much. He's given me pointers on a lot of stuff. Just two or three days with him and I've learned a lot from him."

McDonagh on Sunday praised Pionk for his willingness to ask questions, and for his skill on the ice.

"He's asking a lot, and that's what's great," McDonagh said. "He wants to learn and get up to speed as fast as possible. You can see his skating ability. A couple times he turned and took off and was right up the ice and past everybody. You can see the skill set there."

Andersson, too, has been soaking up any and all information he can from the veterans during practice, namely J.T. Miller.

"J.T. is taking good care of me and [teaching] me some faceoff things and some small tricks out there," Andersson said. "It's a great group of guys. Very professional and taking care of us young guys."

The two players aren't the only ones beaming with excitement. Head coach Alain Vigneault said he was "anxious" to see Pionk in a game situation. 

"I've watched tape on him when our scouts talked to us coaches about him," he said. "I'm very interested to see where he falls into the scheme of things."

As for Andersson, Vigneault said he expects Andersson and fellow first-round pick Filip Chytil to push for spots on the opening night roster.

"I expect both of those guys to compete for a spot on the team," he said. "What I've seen so far, I like Andersson's skill set. I like the energy he brings. I love the way he interacts with his teammates."

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