New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton announced today that the team has agreed to terms with free agent defenseman Neal Pionk.
Pionk, 21, skated in 42 games with the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs this season, registering seven goals and 27 assists for 34 points, along with a plus-24 rating and 25 penalty minutes. He established collegiate career-highs in several categories in 2016-17, including games played, goals, assists, points, and plus/minus rating. In addition, Pionk helped Minnesota Duluth win the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Championship, and he also helped the team advance to the Frozen Four and the National Championship Game.
The 6-0, 190-pounder was also selected to the NCHC Second All-Star Team and the NCHC All-Tournament Team during his sophomore season in 2016-17. Pionk tied for fourth among NCAA defensemen in assists, ranked fifth among NCAA defensemen in points, and ranked sixth among NCAA defensemen in plus/minus rating this season. In addition, Pionk tied for fifth among NCAA defensemen in power play assists (15) and tied for sixth among NCAA defensemen in power play points (19) in 2016-17. He registered a point in 26 of the 42 games he played this season, and Minnesota Duluth earned at least one point in 23 of those 26 contests (17-3-6 record). Pionk registered six assists/points in the final eight games of the 2016-17 season, which included contests as part of the NCHC Playoffs, the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, the NCAA Tournament, and the NCAA Frozen Four, and he was named to the NCAA Frozen Four All-Tournament Team.
Pionk skated in 82 career collegiate games over two seasons (2015-16 and 2016-17) at the University of Minnesota Duluth, registering 11 goals and 40 assists for 51 points, along with a plus-35 rating and 69 penalty minutes. He tallied 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) and posted a plus-11 rating during his freshman year in 2015-16, and he received the Jerry Chumola Award as Minnesota Duluth's Rookie of the Year. Pionk tied for first among team defensemen in assists in 2015-16, and he also led all freshmen on the team in plus/minus rating during the season.
Prior to beginning his collegiate career, the Hermantown, Minnesota, native played parts of three seasons (2012-13 - 2014-15) with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). In 119 career USHL games, Pionk registered 77 points (10 goals, 67 assists), along with a plus-44 rating and 199 penalty minutes. During his final season in the USHL in 2014-15, Pionk recorded 48 points (seven goals, 41 assists) in 53 games and was named the USHL Defenseman of the Year, as he led all USHL defensemen in assists and points during the season.