It took me by surprise.
I was chatting on a Vancouver radio station Friday prior to the Winnipeg Jets facing off in Vancouver against the Canucks and when asked about the defence, I stated immediately and with conviction, “Neal Pionk is the Jets’ best defenceman.”
This is a much different statement than when the Jets traded one of the team’s top defencemen, Jacob Trouba, to New York for Pionk, and I said, “Neal who? How do you say this guy’s last name?”
Now, knowing what we know, I’d say with conviction that today the Jets would trade Trouba for Pionk – straight-up – because Pionk is that good.
Pionk is a perfect modern defenceman.
He defends hard. He can skate. He can carry the puck. He plays in all situations — 5-on-5, penalty kill and power play — and on that power play as a right-handed shot, Pionk can find Mark Scheifele for the one-timer — like he could for Patrik Laine before him.
In addition, from everything one hears, Pionk is a great person. One also hears that Pionk is going to get paid.
A restricted free agent after this season, with a current cap hit of $3 million — how can one not argue that Pionk deserves to be paid in the same term and salary as Josh Morrissey, whose current contract has a cap hit that is double Pionk’s current pay?
Past practices in hockey tend to favour “homegrown” players, ones a team has drafted and developed, when it comes to contracts.
Neal Pionk wasn’t drafted by anyone, a free agent out of college, but look how he’s developed. And when the time comes, the Jets need to make sure the defenceman stays at home here in Winnipeg.