Can prospect Neal Pionk start the season with the Rangers?

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The New York Rangers’ defense is going to look different next season, but training camp will show us just how different it’ll be.

New York bought out Dan Girardi, while Kevin Klein decided to retire from the NHL. Meanwhile, they signed Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency and they traded for Anthony DeAngelo.

One under-the-radar signing that could also crack the roster, is undrafted free agent Neal Pionk, who spent the last two years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The 21-year-old put up an impressive seven goals and 34 points in 42 games last season, and he believes he can make the jump to the NHL without spending time in the minors.

“Whatever happens after training camp happens, but my goal going into training camp is to make the team,” Pionk said, per NHL.com. “I think I can fit the Rangers’ style. I know coach [Alain] Vigneault likes to play an up-tempo game.”

On the surface, this just looks like a prospect that is saying all the right things, but when you consider the righty/lefty breakdown on New York’s defense, you realize Pionik might just have a chance.

Of the top seven defensemen on the roster, Shattenkirk and DeAngelo are the only righthanded shots. Ryan McDonagh, Brendan Smith, Brady Skjei, Nick Holden and Marc Staal are all lefties.

If the Rangers want to keep three right-handed blue liners on the roster, Pionk certainly has a chance to stick. It doesn’t mean he’ll play every night, but he could be a guy who sees some game action here and there.

“He has power-play potential,” Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark said. “He has a great mind on him. He can find the cross diagonal pass that makes you go, ‘Oh my god no … wait, how did he see him?’ He’s got that.”

Related:

Optimism replaces pessimism after changes to Rangers defense

Dahlin headlines Sweden’s roster for World Junior Summer Showcase

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Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, potentially the NHL’s first overall draft pick in 2018, will suit up for Sweden at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan.

Dahlin, who doesn’t turn 18 until April, has wowed scouts with his skating and puck-moving ability. At the 2017 World Juniors, he participated as a 16-year-old, garnering tantalizing reviews in the process.

Top-10 picks in the 2017 draft, Elias Pettersson (5th, Vancouver Canucks) and Lias Andersson (7th, New York Rangers), will also be in Plymouth representing Sweden.

Click here for Sweden’s and Finland’s Summer Showcase rosters. The tournament runs from July 29 – Aug. 5 and also features players from the United States and Canada.

Among the draft-eligible Finns to watch is 17-year-old forward Jesse Ylonen, who could be a late first-rounder in 2018.

Related: USA Hockey invites 42 players to World Junior Summer Showcase

All of a sudden, hope for hockey in Houston

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Leslie Alexander’s decision to sell the NBA’s Rockets has revived hope for a hockey team in Houston.

That’s because Alexander is arguably the biggest reason that Houston doesn’t already have a team. The 72-year-old billionaire controls Toyota Center, where the Rockets play. Without getting into all the details, he’s essentially been the only one who could bring an NHL franchise to the city.

From the Houston Press:

But Alexander selling the Rockets (and the lease that goes with it), opens up an NHL-ready hockey arena in Houston. And that’s something that Seattle, which the NHL seemed to favor, can’t offer, and unlike Quebec City, Houston offers up a huge media market with many, many large corporations around to buy up luxury seats.

Houston is certainly a big city. In fact, only four metro areas in the United States — New York, L.A., Chicago and Dallas — have higher populations.

And Houston is growing fast.

Jeremy Jacobs, the influential owner of the Boston Bruins, has not hidden his desire to put an NHL team in Toyota Center. Back in 2015, he told ESPN.com, “I would love to see one in Houston, but we can’t get into that building.”

Perhaps soon the NHL won’t have that impediment.

Predators hire new assistant coach in wake of Housley departure

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The Nashville Predators have hired Dan Muse as an assistant coach.

Muse, who spent the last two years as head coach of the USHL’s Chicago Steel, will be in charge of the Preds’ forwards as well as the penalty kill, while associate head coach Kevin McCarthy  — in the wake of Phil Housley’s departure — will now have responsibility for the defense and the power play.

Muse led the Steel to a championship in May. He also won an NCAA title in 2013 as an assistant coach for Yale.

“Dan comes to us as a successful young coach that brings great energy and passion to the game,” said Preds head coach Peter Laviolette in a statement. “He has worked his way up through the coaching ranks, first winning an NCAA title at Yale in 2013, and then taking a Chicago team that had missed the playoffs eight straight seasons and turned them into the Clark Cup champions in just two seasons. We are excited to welcome him to the organization and look forward to his contributions to the coaching staff.”

Senators avoid arbitration with Ryan Dzingel

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The Ottawa Senators have narrowly avoided arbitration with Ryan Dzingel.

Per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Dzingel has signed a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1.8 million.

Dzingel’s hearing was scheduled for today. Last season, the 25-year-old forward had 14 goals and 18 assists in 81 games.

Earlier this week, the Sens also avoided arbitration with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, though that case didn’t go down to the wire like Dzingel’s did.

Pageau and Dzingel were the only Sens with arbitration hearings scheduled.

Related: Sens want to avoid arbitration with Dzingel