Hextall on Hockey: Pionk no longer an unknown for Jets fans

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Braden Holtby (49) stops a shot from Winnipeg Jets defenceman Neal Pionk (4) as Vancouver Canucks defenceman Alexander Edler (23) looks on during first-period NHL action in Vancouver, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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?”

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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.

Read more: ANALYSIS — Pionk’s progression a cautionary tale against rushing to judgement

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In addition, from everything one hears, Pionk is a great person. One also hears that Pionk is going to get paid.

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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.

Click to play video: 'RAW: Winnipeg Jets Neal Pionk Interview – Feb. 19'
RAW: Winnipeg Jets Neal Pionk Interview – Feb. 19

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